New Free Read: The Doctor’s Story

15 May

This month’s Free Read is “The Doctor’s Story” by Isabella Alden.

When the Reverend Joseph Mentor tells his young visitor, Frank Horton, a story from his past, he does so with a purpose. Dr. Mentor believes every good Christian can and should find work to do in the Lord’s House; it’s just a matter of finding the right niche for each person. The question is, can they find the right niche for Frank Horton?

Simply scroll down to begin reading the story, or click on the book cover to read, save or print the story in PDF format.

The Doctor’s Story

“I want to tell you a story, young man.”

The speaker was the Reverend Joseph Mentor, D. D., a gray-haired, keen-eyed, large-brained, sweet-faced, grand old Christian. He sat in his own parlor, which was not a parlor, after all, but a sort of study; lined with books on every hand, almost crowded with easy chairs; convenient little writing tables occupying cozy corners, with all the appurtenances thereto lavishly furnished, coaxing the privileged guest to write his letters, or arrange his neglected accounts, or read items from the various journals of the day at his elbow, as his taste might dictate.

The present occupants of the room were three; the aforesaid doctor, leaning back at rest in his favorite study chair—his life had been a long, grand one, and if ever a disciple of the Master could afford to rest on earth, the Reverend Joseph Mentor might have claimed the privilege; yet his very rest was active. The doctor’s son, a young man of twenty-five or so, now co-pastor, who had excused himself to their guest in the manner that one may treat guests who are almost as much at home as they are themselves—on the plea that there were two important letters to answer for the evening mail—and then had turned to one of the writing tables, leaving his father to entertain the young man with a pale face and scholarly air, who sat in a half-dejected attitude in the straight-backed, old-fashioned chair near the doctor. It was to him that the old gentleman had turned with the apparently abrupt statement:

“I want to tell you a story, young man!’

That the young man would be glad to hear any story that Doctor Mentor might choose to honor him with was evident from the flash of his eyes and the instant look of interest that overspread his face.

Then the doctor began: “About a month ago I attended the funeral of a man in whom I have taken a deep interest all my life. He was an old man, and a plain man all his long life; yet, though I have attended a great many funerals in the last half century, I don’t think I ever saw a greater uprising of the people to offer the last tribute of respect and affection to a plain man in their midst. I want to tell you a little about that man. Miller, his name was, Daniel Miller. He was older than I, and in my young days I used to watch him from his pew in the church. I liked his face, even then, before I knew him; a grave, half-sad face, yet never gloomy—only a look of patient resignation to the inevitable. A Christian man he was, one of the sterling sort. Talk with anybody in that town about him and they would pay almost instant tribute to his sterling worth and almost always close with, ‘What a pity that such a good man as he is should be so hard of hearing.’

“That was his trouble, and a great trouble it was. I suppose it was the means of breaking in pieces a number of plans of his youth. Well, the thought was written all over his patient, sad face: ‘I am hard of hearing and growing worse. It destroys my usefulness, it hinders my work in every direction, it makes me appear unsocial and unsympathetic. In short, it is a burden hard to be borne.’ As I watched him, I could see that this feeling grew upon him; grew with his infirmity, and that progressed quite rapidly.

“You have no idea, I suppose, what a drawback it was to him on all occasions. It got so that he didn’t dare to open his lips in the prayer meeting. He would look all around him to see whether anybody was speaking, but some of the members had a way of keeping their seats when they talked, so he found that he couldn’t tell by their position, and once or twice he arose and began to pray when someone was talking; he was a different man, and it embarrassed him dreadfully. Then he used to say that he never knew whether what he had to offer was in line with what had been said or was very wide of the mark; and if the minister asked him to pray, he had to shout out the request, and sometimes poor Mr. Miller couldn’t hear it, and his wife would have to give his elbow a nudge and lean over and whisper to him loud enough for all the house to hear, ‘He wants you to lead in prayer!’

“It was a real embarrassment all around. People didn’t wonder that he gradually grew into the feeling that he couldn’t take part very often in religious meetings, though I never thought that was right. I always believed that his prayers would be in line with what the Lord wanted to have said and that he would be safe enough whether he followed the line of the others or not.

“So it went on, Daniel Miller growing deafer and deafer, and the patient, sad look on his face deepening, and the feeling growing in his heart that he wasn’t of any use to the church of Christ that he loved with all his soul.

“One day somebody in that church had an inspiration. ‘I tell you what it is,’ one of the members said, bringing down his doubled-up fist on the seat before him for emphasis, ‘I believe we ought to make Daniel Miller our treasurer. That thing would suit him, and he is just the man to do the work.’

“‘But Daniel Miller is so deaf,’ objected one. ‘He grows worse and worse; I notice that his wife always has to find the hymns for him, and the place in the Bible, and point to the text!’

“‘What if he is deaf?’ said his champion. ‘A man doesn’t have to hear in order to add money and keep accounts, and make out bills and send them out, and keep everything straight. I believe it is work that he could do, and I believe it would do him good; make him feel that he can do something for the church, and that we have confidence in him. I tell you what it is, brethren, I’m going to propose his name at our next election.’

“Well, he was as good as his word, and sure enough, all the people said ‘Amen.’ They did it with so much enthusiasm and with such a look on their faces that said, ‘What a splendid idea! I wonder we never thought of it before,’ that there was quite an excitement, and Mrs. Miller looked about her, and the tears began to gather in her eyes, and she put her head down suddenly on the seat in front of her. She was a grand, good woman—a helpmate to her good husband in every sense of the word.

“Well, Daniel Miller looked around with that meek, inquiring look on his face, a little troubled, as much as to say, ‘Are you having a good time, brethren, or is there something going on in the Lord’s house that oughtn’t to be? I’m jealous for his honor; I hope all is well.’

“The chairman got out of his chair of office and went down the aisle, bent over Mr. Miller, and said in a good, loud voice, ‘You have been elected our church treasurer by a unanimous vote.’

“You ought to have seen his face then; it was a picture. It flushed and glowed, and his eyes grew dim, and his lips quivered, and it seemed for a minute that he couldn’t speak at all. Then he stammered out something about not being fitted for the work—his infirmity being so great; he wished he could do something, he would be glad to if he could, but maybe it was a risk to try it.

“Then the chairman put down his mouth to his ear again and called out, ‘We all stand ready to go your security, every one of us.’

“And then, sir, if you will believe it, that decorous assembly, made up of a class of people who believed every one of them is doing things decently and in order, just clapped their hands, and he understood it, and he got out his handkerchief very suddenly. You never saw anything work more like a charm than that arrangement did all around.

“Daniel Miller took hold of the work with a will, I tell you, and the work was never better done. His ‘infirmity’ as he always meekly called it, was a positive advantage to him. There wasn’t any use in trying to tell him how the accounts stood, or explain away this or that; he couldn’t hear; it all had to be reduced to writing. And when a man sits down in quiet to make a written account of anything that another man is expected to fully understand, why he uses language carefully, don’t you see? You don’t suppose they were foolish enough when his year was out to go and put in another treasurer, do you? Not a bit of it; the machine was running too smoothly. They elected him again by as large a vote as before.

“‘It does my heart good,’ one old lady said, ‘to see Daniel Miller go up for the collections on Sunday. He does it with such a glad look on his face, as if he had found out something he could do for the church and do well.’

“He did it well, too; no mistakes. By and by he began to send out little notes with his bills: ‘We owe it to our pastor to pay his quarter’s salary on the day promised.’ Well, sir, when the next quarter’s salary was paid the morning of the day on which it was due, without having been asked for or run after, that minister thought the millennium was about to dawn! He hadn’t been used to that sort of thing. You never saw anything like the promptness with which pew rents were paid in the church. If a man was twenty-four hours behind time, he was almost sure to receive a call from Mr. Miller; no writing notes this time. That man understood human nature well. Just imagine a gentleman standing in his store or office and trying to carry on a conversation with Daniel Miller about not having paid his pew rent. ‘Money has been a little short with me lately’ he begins, ‘and I thought a few days’ delay—’

“‘What is it?’ interrupts Daniel with his hand to his ear. ‘I’m hard of hearing, you know; speak a little louder, please.’

“Do you suppose that man is going to yell out for the benefit of the passersby that he is a little short of money and had deliberately planned a few days’ delay for his minister? The way it worked was for him to scream out, ‘You shall have the money at noon today, Mr. Miller.’ Very likely he grumbled that he wouldn’t get caught in that trap again, and he didn’t. People didn’t enjoy calls from Daniel Miller when they owed the church any money. I watched that thing with the greatest interest. It grew all the time. It made a wonderful difference in Daniel’s life; he kept his head straighter and walked faster on the street. The church was large, and there was a good deal of business to be transacted, and Daniel had no temptation to brood over his infirmity. Then he knew just what was going on, just what the church gave to Foreign Missions, and Home Missions, and all benevolences. He had no need any more to wonder painfully what was being done, and after hesitating over it a good while, make up his mind to ask somebody and feel sorry for them all the time to think they had to answer him. Instead, people had to come to him for information. Nothing could be paid for, not a cent of money could be sent anywhere or done anything with unless the thing passed through Daniel Miller’s hands. And I tell you, the treasurer’s reports of that church were curiosities; they were managed with such exactness and clearness. He had a little witch of a daughter—Nettie her name was, as pretty as a picture.

“Do you remember her, my son?”

“Yes, sir, distinctly,” came promptly from the table where the son was writing letters.

And the doctor continued, “Her father made her his clerk almost as soon as she could talk plainly and began to train her up to business habits and business terms; he took her with him a good deal. ‘Daniel Miller’s ears’ we used to call the bright little thing; and she was as bright as a diamond. We used to notice that Daniel could hear to the last better than anybody else, even his wife. ‘She’s got a voice like an angel,’ he said to me once. ‘I know by her that I shall be able to hear the angels.’

“His hearing grew steadily worse. For a good many years he was able to hear some of the sermon, the loud parts as he used to call them, but, by degrees, he lost the power of doing that. ‘Did you hear?’ the minister would shout at him after service as he came up for the collection. He would shake his head, but his eyes would look bright as he answered, ‘No, sir, not with my ears; but I’ve got it here.’ And he would lay his hand on his great, noble heart. It was true, too, and he went out and lived it a great deal better than many who heard everything. You must understand, young man, that I am covering a good deal of ground with this long story. The years went by, and at each election Daniel Miller was reinstated, until at last that congregation would have laughed in the face of any man who had suggested a change. ‘What should we do without Daniel Miller?’ That is as near as they ever came to mentioning the time when they might have to do without him; and the time came when they said that in lowered tones and with a hint of tears, for he was growing to be an old man, and the church couldn’t afford to lose him.

“Bless you! I hope you don’t think that keeping the finances of the church straight was all the man did? It would take all night to tell you half the things that grew out of it; and then it wouldn’t be told; it can’t be. The Lord of the vineyard is the only one who has the whole story. I told you he took to writing little marginal readings on the church bills and receipts. Well, is there any reason why marginal readings on church bills can’t be about other matters than money? The ‘words in season’ that this deaf man spoke in this way in quiet hours to one and another of the flock, and the fruit they bore, I know something of—a good deal of, in fact; but, as I tell you, the Master is the only one who has the entire record.

“One night he had a new idea, or rather he worked out what was to him an old idea. He went on Saturday evening to the parsonage with the quarter’s salary; he apologized for intruding on Saturday, but said he, ‘According to date this money should be paid tomorrow morning, and of course I couldn’t do that, so I made bold to come tonight.’

“Well, he happened to be one of those men who never intrude on a pastor, no matter what time they come; so his pastor told him he was glad to see him and would talk with him while he finished and put up his sermon; but Daniel didn’t seem to want to talk; he watched that sermon with a curious, wistful air. At last he spoke, ‘I’ve been turning a ridiculous idea over in my mind for a long time; I don’t suppose it could be done, but I’ve thought sometimes that I would just like to try an experiment and read over one of your sermons before you preached it and see if I couldn’t follow you from the pulpit better after that.’ It was a queer notion, but it took the pastor’s fancy The fact was, he loved Daniel Miller so much that almost anything he said took his fancy, and he handed over the sermon and told the old gentleman to try it, by all means, he could have it as well as not. It would have done your heart good to see Daniel Miller’s radiant face the next day. ‘It worked, sir, it worked!’ he said to the pastor, and he rubbed his hands together like a gleeful boy. ‘I could follow you right along a good piece at a time/’ If you’ll believe it, that thing grew into a regular custom; the pastor had a boy, a bright enough fellow, who was always ready to scamper over to Daniel Miller’s with the sermon on Saturday nights as soon as the minister could spare it and wait while Daniel Miller went over it. Fact is, as the years went by, he was more willing to do that than any other errand the father could get up, and he and Nettie went over church accounts and some other accounts together many a Saturday night. But I happen to know that the pastor came to have a queer feeling that he couldn’t preach a sermon until Daniel Miller went over it! That might be in part because he discovered that the old man had a way of going over it on his knees, and every sentence he came to that seemed to him ought to do a certain person any good, he would pray, ‘Lord, bless that to John Satkins: and so on, you know. Little Nettie, she let that secret out to the boy one night; and the minister came to feel that Daniel Miller was the associate pastor and was praying the sermon into the hearts of the people all the time it was being preached. When a minister really feels that, he preaches carefully, I believe.

“Well, sir, it was a wonderful life; and when it ended, as I tell you it did a little more than a month ago, I never saw anything like the demonstration; and I didn’t wonder at it. Twenty-nine years they had elected that man to office, and the Lord had elected him to a much higher office here on earth; his little notes bore a big harvest; and when the Lord called him to his seat in the church triumphant, the church on earth looked around for someone on whom his mantle could fall, and I tell you it seemed for a time impossible to do without him. Why, I moderated the meeting for them when they met to try to fill his place, and they just spent the first half hour in tears and praying! Such lives tell. ‘Infirmity,’ indeed! God grant us more men like Daniel Miller.”

“What became of Nettle and the boy? Did they get their accounts all settled?” It was the first time the intent listener had interrupted the old Doctor’s vivid story. Indeed, it could not be called an interruption now, for the doctor had paused and let his thoughts run back into the tender past. He roused himself with the question and laughed a little.

“How is it, my son?” he asked, looking over toward the writing table. “Have you and Nettie finished the accounts, or are they open yet?”

“We mean to keep them open, sir, until we join the ‘church triumphant.’ The young man answered quickly, albeit his voice was husky, and he brushed his hand hastily over dim eyes. Then he turned to the guest.

“My father has given you a true picture of my father-in-law’s fruitful life; as good a picture as can be drawn on the moment; but it is as he says, no one can tell the story in its fullness. I think we shall have a wonderful account of it someday.”

There was silence in the pleasant room for a few moments. Then the guest turned to Doctor Mentor. “Thank you,” he said brightly, “thank you very much; they say that ‘a word to the wise is sufficient,” and he stammered as he tried to speak; then he arose to go.

“Father,” said the son, returning from seeing the guest to the door and stopping for a moment before his father, “do you think Frank Horton is in danger of becoming deaf? Or is it because he stammers, or just what is the hidden purpose of the story?”

“Well,” said the doctor, “I told him that story because he is like Moses, ‘slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ I think he caught the lesson and will put it into practice. I am told that he is a very bright, earnest Christian, but that he broods over his infirmity and is very sad; you can see it in his countenance. There is a niche for him, just where, perhaps, the infirmity will tell for God’s glory. Look at your father-in-law. I tell you there is a defect in most lives, an ‘infirmity’ of some sort that grace must supplement. It is not for us to fold our hands and say; ‘What a pity!’ but to help find the niche where the marble fits. Mr. Horton is like Daniel Miller. He could not be a good Sunday school teacher, or elder, or minister, but he can do something.”

The End

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A Nice Oyster Supper

25 Apr

There’s a recurring theme in many of Isabella’s books you may have noticed:

Whenever a group of characters needed to raise money for their church or favorite cause, their first inclination was to earn the money through a social event.

Ad from a 1918 North Carolina newspaper.

Isabella’s characters held fairs and festivals, old folk’s suppers and young folk’s concerts, character parties and tableaux, strawberry soirees and ice cream socials—all in the name of raising money for their church or charity.

Announcement in Fort Mill Times (South Carolina), November 17, 1910.

Carrie Spafford in The Pocket Measure didn’t see the sense of it. She asked:

“Why do you suppose we always think of devices of this kind whenever we talk about money for the cause of Christ?”

Carrie asked a good question. Whenever there was money to be earned, Isabella’s characters—much like the people in churches Isabella observed first hand—spent long hours and lots of money to stage events by which they hoped to receive donations for their cause.

The Camden (Tennessee) Chronicle, February 9, 1912.

The most popular method Isabella’s characters turned to for raising money was the oyster supper.

That’s what happened in Isabella’s short story, “Circulating Decimals.” As soon as the ladies of the Penn Avenue Church realized the church library was in need of new books, they decided to take action.

Up rose the women, the respectable, middle-aged, matronly women. The library must be replenished, the money must be raised. They—the matrons—would do this thing speedily and quietly. They would have an oyster supper on a large scale, make preparation for a great many guests, furnish oysters in every possible style, and with them such coffee as only they could make, to say nothing of the inevitable cake and cream, and side dishes for those who did not relish oysters. So they went to work quietly, skillfully, expeditiously. Baking, broiling, frying, stewing!

A portion of a comic appearing in the Washington DC Evening Star, January 1, 1911.

Oysters were also the go-to choice when Isabella’s characters entertained guests in their home.

Preparing an oyster supper; and 1873 print.

Flossie Roberts served oysters with jellies and sauces to the rough boys in her Sunday-school class in Ester Ried Yet Speaking.

Oysters with Lemon, a painting by Otto Scholderer, 1891.

And when the impoverished Cameron family in What They Couldn’t struggled to find a way to entertain their society friends with little money, they decided to invite their discerning friends to a simple lunch:

Their ideas of simplicity would have bewildered some people. A lunch without salads was not to be thought of, of course; and chicken salads were the best. No matter if chicken was very expensive just now, it did not take a great deal for a salad. Then oysters were just getting nice, and, after the long summer, seemed so new; raw oysters were the very thing with which to begin a lunch. Served on the half-shell and properly garnished, there was no simple dish which looked more inviting.

A plate of oyster patties from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Cookery, 1907.

In these stories, and many others, Isabella was sharing a very real circumstance of life in late 19th and early 20th century America:

America loved oysters and ate them in abundance.

Business card for an oyster dealer, 1880.

Fresh oysters were prized, but thanks to advancements in canning methods, oysters could be shipped inland to Midwest cities that previously had no means for buying and consuming seafood.

And new techniques for harvesting oysters made them so abundantly available, their cost was half as much as beef, per pound. They were inexpensive and popular, and Americans couldn’t get enough of them.

A plate of grilled oysters, from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Cookery, 1907.

Cook books of the time had recipes for stewed oysters, fried oysters, broiled oysters, and pickled oysters.

A 1915 cookbook published by the Oyster Growers and Dealers Association of North America. You can click on the cover to see the entire cookbook.

Americans served oyster patties, oyster pies, and soups. They added oysters to their meats, stuffed them in turkeys, and scrambled them with eggs.

For those who didn’t want to prepare oysters themselves, they could find oysters on the menu of most restaurants and public houses.

The Union Oyster House in Boston, Massachusetts was founded in 1826 and is still in business today.

Most major towns in America could boast an oyster parlor or oyster saloon.

A 1903 newspaper ad for a Louisiana oyster saloon offering a ladies’ private parlor.

Many such establishments had private dining rooms for ladies, where they could eat oysters in an environment that did not offend their delicate sensibilities.

An 1881 ad for an oyster saloon in Astoria, Oregon.

Americans’ love for oysters spawned an entirely new industry of serving plates and utensils designed specifically for oysters.

An oyster plate from the late 1800s. With six oyster wells, it is decorated in the Chinoiserie style popular at the time.

It’s no wonder, then, that when Isabella’s characters planned a dinner or a party, they naturally thought to put oysters on the menu. They were inexpensive, easy to prepare, and almost everyone liked them.

A silver oyster fork from Tiffany & Company, dated 1872

But cooking and selling oysters didn’t guarantee that a fund-raising event would be successful. Though festivals and dinners and other fund-raisers were very stylish, Isabella believed that more money and effort were spent on putting the events together than the organizers ever made from donations.

When talk turned to having a fund-raising festival of some kind in The Pocket Measure, Callie Spafford stated Isabella’s opinion plainly:

“Haven’t you often seen gentlemen eat fifty cents worth of oysters and cake and cream and fruit and celery, and I don’t know what else, and pay twenty-five cents for it all, and think they were being benevolent?”

Despite the questionable economics, oyster suppers remained a favorite form of charity fundraisers in America . . . and in Isabella’s novels.

 

Pay as You Go

18 Apr

When Isabella wrote Interrupted in 1881 she was forty years old and had lived through one of the greatest financial disasters in American history.

It was a troubling time for the country, and Isabella reflected that trouble in her story. The main character, Claire Benedict, is a young woman raised in the lap of luxury, who suddenly finds herself—along with her mother and sister—virtually penniless when her father dies unexpectedly.

Isabella wrote:

How do such things occur? I cannot tell. Yet how many times in your life have you personally known of them—families who are millionaires today, and beggars tomorrow? It was just that sort of blow which came to the Benedicts.

Isabella had seen real-life examples of wealthy businessmen turned into paupers overnight. Just eight years before Interrupted was published, America suffered through The Panic of 1873.

The Collapse of a Bank by Vladimir Egorovic Makovsky. Note the despair of the man in the center of the painting, compared to the bank manager on the right, pocketing cash as he heads for the exit.

The Panic was caused by many factors, but the fatal spark came from Jay Cooke & Co., an American banking house that borrowed heavily to finance railroad expansion in the U.S.

Newspaper illustration showing crowds gathered outside Jay Cooke & Co. banking house in September, 1873.

Cooke was caught using a number of deceptive business practices, including shell companies to hide costs from investors, a scheme discovered in 1872. The revelation damaged investor confidence, and Cooke’s bank suffered heavy losses until, in 1873, Cooke was forced to suspend all deposits and payments, and closed the bank’s doors.

A run on the Fourth National Bank, New York City, 1873. From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

That announcement sent shock-waves through Wall Street, and led to a panic of bank runs and bank failures throughout the country.

The extent of the economic crash was so great, the New York Stock Exchange closed two days later and stayed closed for ten days.

Crowds on Broad Street near the Stock Exchange on September 20 after the closing of the Exchange doors.

Those banks that survived the initial crash immediately called in their debts, which caused an alarming number of foreclosures and bankruptcies throughout the country.

The Panic of 1873 commenced on September 18; by and the end of the year . . .

  • One in every eight Americans was unemployed
  • Employers that were still in business cut wages, on average by 25%
  • Construction of businesses and homes came to a standstill
  • The value of land dropped and profits crashed
  • Tens of thousands of workers—many Civil War veterans—became homeless transients, making “tramp” a commonplace American term

Retailers did their best to keep their doors open. Many abandoned attempts to make a profit and had to be content to merely break even.

Advertisement in a Philadelphia newspaper.

It was a desperate time in America; and the economic depression that followed the crash lasted almost seven years.

As the economy began a slow recovery, the average Americans found the financial rules had changed.

The cover of Harper’s Weekly magazine on October 18, 1873.

For starters, there was a lopsided disparity of wealth distribution. Rich industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller, who survived the Long Depression intact, now owned over 71% of the nation’s wealth.

A merchant’s sign proclaiming their cash-only policy.

The average American found banks no longer wanted their business. J. P. Morgan’s banking house required a minimum personal value before they allowed a new customer to even walk in their door.

The J. P. Morgan Bank building at the corner of Broad and Wall Streets, New York, as it appeared in 1914.

So Americans had no choice but to turn to cash.

It was a natural reaction, since most Americans were aware that buying on credit and shady financing deals had caused the Panic of 1873 in the first place. They came to distrust credit and lending institutions, and developed their own barter systems and cash-only policies.

A cartoon illustrating America’s altered attitude toward credit.

Isabella wrote about it in The Pocket Measure.

In that story, Mrs. Spafford suggests to a group of girls from church that they earn money by starting a business selling hand-made items.

“Where would we get our material?”

“We would need a buying committee—someone whose duty it would be to purchase material.”

“Suppose she hadn’t money enough for the purchases?”

“Then we should manifestly have to do without the material until such time as we could afford to enlarge our business.”

“Couldn’t we buy on credit?”

Both Mrs. Spafford and Addie Stowell shook their heads emphatically at this, and Addie said:

“No, ma’am! You don’t catch me launching out in any enterprise that hasn’t a solid cash foundation. I should expect my father to disown me forthwith. If there is anything he hates, it is the credit system.”

This rebus proclaims “Fork over what you owe.”

Almost all of Isabella’s novels reflect that sentiment. From David Ransom’s Watch to Ester Ried’s Namesake, Isabella made certain her characters earned the money they needed. They didn’t buy anything “on credit.”

A merchant’s broadside from 1875.

Her characters saved up for years to purchase a train ticket or a new dress.

Another example of a merchant’s broadside.

They counted pennies and survived on johnny cakes and molasses.

In fact, most of Isabella’s stories feature characters who live in poverty—the sort of poverty Isabella witnessed first-hand in the years following the 1873 crash.

What do you think?

Do you have a favorite Isabella Alden book that features characters who were poor or insisted on earning the money for the things they wanted to buy? Share your favorite Isabella book by commenting in the Leave a Reply box below.


You can learn more about the Financial Panic of 1873 by watching this short video about the Panic’s impact on the citizens of Illinois:

And you can click on any book cover to find out more about Isabella’s novels mentioned in this post.

 

New Free Read: The Harrisville Young Ladies’ Band

6 Apr

This month’s free read is Isabella’s short story, “The Harrisville Young Ladies’ Band.”

In this 1881 story, Miss Fannie Archer is president of a young ladies’ missionary band that is rapidly failing. At their last meeting, only three ladies showed up, and they were only there because they were officers of the club! No one, it seems, in her entire town is interested in supporting missionaries who do God’s work in far-off corners of the world. But Fannie is; and she’s desperate to bring some life—and some new members—into the ladies’ band. But how?

It isn’t until she confides in her cousin that Fannie realizes her approach to organizing a missionary support group has been wrong from the start. But with a few suggestions from her cousin, some hard work, and a good amount of devoted prayer, Fannie just may be able to make the club a success, after all.

You can read the entire story below, or click on the cover to read, download, or print the story as a pdf.


CHAPTER 1

SOMETHING MUST BE DONE

IT was having a weary struggle for existence. A spasm of missionary zeal had swept over the place, and while the influence lasted, certain young ladies, with the aid and under the spell of an eloquent lady who came to them from the parent society, had organized a “branch” which now, in only the third month of its existence was in serious danger of withering.

They had struggled bravely, those few; had heroically given up a Saturday afternoon once a month to the effort; had gathered themselves into a corner of the church which was pleasant enough on a Sabbath morning, with the great congregation gathering in, but which had an indescribably dreary appearance to the five or six who hovered over the register on a Saturday afternoon, and wished that the sexton would make more fire, or that they had a pleasanter place to meet, or that something could be done to make missionary efforts less dreary.

The President, with the best intentions in the world, did not understand how to conduct a Young Ladies’ Band. She selected and carefully read a chapter in the Bible; she was a fair reader; but, not being used to mission work, and not having been trained, it did not seem to occur to her that certain portions of the Bible might be better suited to these meetings than certain others; so her choice had been governed only by the length of the chapter. She always chose a long one, because she knew that she could read, and she always believed that she could not talk. Then oh! it is a pity, and “pity ’tis, ’tis true;” I can hardly find words in which to explain to you the tremendous force of will and the outlay of moral courage which it required for this young President to kneel down before her half-dozen companions and offer prayer! There were times when she felt that to have bravely donned a soldier’s uniform and march boldly into the thick of battle, could surely be nothing to compare with this. Yet she did it, with trembling lips and throbbing heart, and low murmured words that even the one kneeling beside her could not, sometimes, catch; yet, be it recorded, she did it.

As for singing, they could not compass that. Five voices in the choir made their music on Sabbath day something to be enjoyed, but though those five voices belonged, three of them to ladies, two of them to church-members, they had not hitherto been persuaded to give their presence to this Young Ladies’ Band.

One of them hadn’t time; she had time, it is true, for calls, and rides, and sociables, and festivals, and shopping, but then these were necessary occupations; they consumed all the time, leaving none for minor matters. One of them was not a Christian, and produced it as an unanswerable excuse for not being interested in any scheme pertaining to the cause of Christ, and one of them “didn’t believe in foreign missions, anyway.” So, as I said, the singing in the Harrisville Young Ladies’ Band was of necessity omitted. Several of the members could sing, it is true, when a strong reliable voice led the way, but the process of starting a tune was too formidable even to be thought of.

They had undertaken to have papers prepared on China and Japan and other missionary countries; and those appointed had faithfully accomplished their task and compiled a formidable list of statistics; the difficulty being that those who listened or appeared to listen, cared little or nothing about the population and productions of the country, nor thought it mattered how many years it was since certain missionaries went there nor how long they were in acquiring the language. A vital interest in the cause was, of course, the mainspring lacking. So the members dwindled; the seven or eight became five or six; always including the heroic President.

One sunny Saturday afternoon, which was yet cold and chill in the great church, by reason of the fact that the sexton concluded to use sun heat instead of furnace heat, and yet avoided the opening of a single blind until long after the sun had moved away from that quarter, the discouragement of these good-intentioned few reached its culminating point. It transpired that at the proper hour for meeting, there were three shivering damsels who looked drearily at each other. These were the President, the Secretary and the Treasurer of the Harrisville Young Ladies’ Band, or Branch, as they more often called themselves.

“What a branch!” ejaculated the Secretary, as her eye rested on the name, written with careful flourishes in the great blank book before her; then she laughed; then the President and the Secretary laughed. They would all much rather have cried, if that would not have made the matter still more embarrassing. They were all honestly disappointed.

“What are we going to do?” queried the Secretary, in a discouraged tone. “Just think of making a minute of three people at the last meeting!”

“And thirty cents set down in the Treasurer’s report!” chimed in the Treasurer. “Thirty cents given in the month of February by the Harrisville Young Ladies’ Band for the cause of missions!”

Then the President. with tremendous energy of tone and manner: “Something must be done!”

“What?” said both of her companions, in a breath, and, by way of answer, that President let her copies of Woman’s Work and Foreign Missionary slip unheeded, to the floor, and said: “Let us pray!”

This astonished the girls. They had not supposed that it was worthwhile to pray, when only three persons were present, and they all officers. But the young president prayed as though she felt that they had reached the extremity of their wisdom, and now, indeed, must depend on the Lord. Somehow, her intensity of feeling made her less afraid than usual. I do not know that, in the strict sense of the word, she could have been said to pray for missions. Rather, she prayed for the Harrisville Young Ladies’ Band. Not by name; she even forgot that she belonged to that imposing body; was indeed the presiding officer of it; and almost before she realized where she was, or what she represented, she found herself praying as she did in her little room at home, for “the girls.”

The effect of this prayer was echoed by each voice as they arose from their knees.
“Now, girls, we certainly must do something.”

 

CHAPTER 2

SOME NEW IDEAS

THEN they went home to think about it. Later in the day, the same influence, intensifying with every passing moment, pervaded the heart of the President, Miss Fannie Archer, as she sat in her father’s parlor, elbows resting on the small table before her, and hands thrust into the frizzes of her brown hair. She echoed her thoughts aloud and vehemently:

“Something must be done. Charlie, see here!”

Charlie was a cousin, a young student of theology, and a guest in the house. He came from the library near at hand.

“Well, what is needing my immediate supervision?”

“I want to talk to you about our young society. You are interested in missions, or ought to be. What can we do about our Young Ladies’ Branch? It is just a hopeless drag.”

“Withered, eh? I expected as much.”

“Now, why did you expect it?” a little impatient frown on the fair face. “You think we girls are not in earnest at all; and I tell you we were. We meant to do the best we could, and did; and it don’t work, and it won’t work; I don’t see how it is our fault.”

“I don’t say it is. It is natural sequence, though, from the result of that sort of management.”

“What sort of management? We conducted the meetings just as others do. Just what do you mean by that?”

“Oh, all that I mean is a very old statement, for the truth of which a greater than I is responsible: ‘The children of this world are, in their generation, wiser than the children of light.’”

“I don’t see the application.”

“Well, now,” he said, drawing a chair in front of her, and looking straight into the eyes of his fair cousin, “let us look at the matter. If I were suddenly called upon to make an addition to the statement just quoted, which would fit the present day, I think I should say: The children of light are wiser about everything else that can be thought of, than they are about matters that pertain to religion. How, for instance, did you manage that festival in which you were interested last fall?”

“Well,” said Miss Fannie, “we—Why, we worked it up.”

“Exactly so. You had schemes and plans and committees enough to manage a World’s Fair; and rehearsals and committee meetings, and all sorts of contrivances, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Fannie, letting her mind wander dreamily back among the doings of the past, “there was no end of work connected with that festival.”

“So I suspect. The trouble with this branch of yours, I suspect, is that it is not tended and weeded and watered enough.”

“Charlie, do drop metaphor, and talk plain common sense. If you know anything that we can do to awaken an interest in our band, I wish you would tell me; though I am sure I don’t see what you should know about missions.”

“I know less about missions than I do about any other one thing that at present interests the sensible portion of the world, I do believe; and, according to the present rates of management, I am really afraid it will be a long while before I know any more, but I do profess to have a few grains of common sense, and it is about that very article, or the want of it, that I am talking at this moment.”

“Will you enlighten me?”

“Why, Fannie, I think I have. I say, how do you manage everything else? Look at that church sociable which was in your house. How many times did I escort you to places so that you could plan for it? How many times did I hear the sentence, “Say, girls, how shall we entertain people when we get them there?” And, “What shall we do about music? We must have some fine music.” And, “Don’t you think it would be nice to have a museum of paintings or carvings, or some curious or interesting things for people to look at, to start conversation, you know; some people don’t know how to talk, unless they have something to talk about.”

Whereupon Fannie laughed, “I remember that sentence, Charlie; you said it yourself.”

“Very well; then I contributed one important item to the general fund; but I hope you see the application. What have you done to entertain people when you got them to your band meetings?”

“They don’t come to be entertained,” interrupted Fannie.

“Suppose they had, how much entertainment would they have received? How much pains do you take with your music? How extensive a literary programme have you? How much thought do you give to the matter beforehand? How much wiser are those who attend than they were before? How much more deeply impressed are they with the importance of missions than they were before they shivered through that hour in the northwest corner of the church?

“Then another point: Just suppose for a minute, if you can suppose anything so ridiculous, that when you got up that fair, over which you were busy day and night for three months, the public had heard no more about it than the simple announcement to those who happened to be in the church, that the young ladies’ fair would be held next Saturday afternoon as usual in the church at 3 o’clock, and not another syllable lisped concerning it until Saturday afternoon came? How large a number would you have had?”

“Bless me! Haven’t I a vivid recollection of being stopped by young ladies on every street corner, and six times between each corner, to receive a cordial, in fact, a very pressing invitation to the fair! We all knew about that, I assure you, and were not in danger of forgetting it. Moreover, it isn’t six weeks since I heard a party of young ladies voting vigorously for a simple tea at the sewing circle because it relieved the stiffness and made everyone feel more social and cheery.”

“The simple question is, why don’t you as a Branch, try some of these devices to set your leaves and buds to growing?”

“But Charlie, think what a humiliating admission to have to make, that our Christian young ladies have to be coaxed and beguiled in that way into having an interest in missionary work! They ought to be glad of a chance to help the cause.”

“My dear, logical young cousin, is there any rule which makes such a proceeding humiliating for mission bands, and perfectly wise and desirable for church fairs and sociables and festivals? People ought to be glad of the chance of paying church debts, and upholstering pews, and getting new organs, and hymn-books, and Sabbath-school library-books, and supporting the interests of the Church generally; but the sad fact remains that they have to be invited and entertained, and fed, and sought after, and coaxed, or they will not come.”

“Well, we might do something of the sort I suppose; only there is very little time in these short afternoons, and as for having tea, it seems as though it would be rather dull, just us girls.”

“Why should it be limited to just ‘us girls?’ Isn’t there any place in the enterprise for ‘us boys?’ It strikes me that it would not injure us in the least to get some sort of an idea of what the church is doing in this line, and I don’t know how we are ever to get it, unless those who are posted in these matters take us in hand. What special harm would there be in your occasionally inviting us to join you, and thrive together?”

Then was Miss Fannie amazed at the audacity of the idea. “How could we?” she said indignantly. “We belong to the Young Ladies’ Branch, and are called the Young Ladies’ Band! But, then, I don’t see that that need make any difference; we needn’t ask the young gentlemen for money; they might just meet to enjoy the exercises and the music and see us home, and, well …” said Miss Fannie, after a moment’s hesitation, “have a good time together. There is no use in talking, now; it is a good deal pleasanter for the girls and boys to meet together and entertain each other than it is to be by ourselves.”

“Of course it is,” rejoined Cousin Charlie, with the relish of one who fully accepted the proposition. “Why, in the name of common sense, shouldn’t it be? We are brothers and cousins and friends, and we enjoy each other’s society elsewhere; why need we be left out in the cold in this matter of missions? I appreciate the business part of it, a separate organization and all that, and your business matters might be conducted before we arrived, and as to the money, of course we wouldn’t force any of ours upon you.” This with a twinkle of eyes that indicated his evident relish of this position. “There is no telling how soon we might be roused to forming a money organization of our own; but until then, why couldn’t we be admitted to the social part, at least?”

Then silence took possession of that little parlor for a few minutes. Miss Fannie disarranged her frizzes worse than before, and the two furrows in her forehead told that she was thinking hard.

“There is one trouble in the way,” she said, at last, speaking hesitatingly. “I don’t believe we girls could possibly manage the religious exercises before outsiders.”

“Well,” Charlie said, after a thoughtful pause, “I’ll admit that it is a humiliating thing that we who are as intimate in regard to every other subject as friends well can be, are afraid to talk about Christ and heaven together, or to speak to our best friend in the presence of our other friends. I hope the time will come for a reform in that matter. I hope to live to see the day when it will be as natural for girls and boys to pray before each other as it is now to talk.

“But we must take the world, in part, as we find it, and until we can move wisely in an advance, how would it do to let us come in late, in time to pass the cake and coffee and see you safely home? I know it is hard on a fellow to make him provide a niche for himself, but I seem driven to it.”

“Charlie,” said Miss Fannie, under a sudden impulse of frankness, and after another pause, “you are a provoking fellow, sometimes, and you have hinted some real hateful things during this very talk. At the same time, I’ll own that you have given me some new ideas, and I may work them up.”

“Thank you,” was the said Charlie’s courteous reply, accompanied by an unnecessarily low bow. “The hope of seeing a new idea developed once more repays me for all the sacrifice of personal ease and enjoyment that I have made.”

 

CHAPTER 3

A NEW ORDER OF THINGS

THUS began the new order of things in the Harrisville Young Ladies’ Band. The very next Monday there was a self-constituted committee of three, being the aforesaid officers of the band, who met to discuss ways and means. Thereafter the younger portion of Harrisville pertaining to the First Church was in a flutter. Invitations were out on the daintiest of note paper, inviting every young gentleman and every young lady to the next meeting of the Young Ladies’ Band, to be held at the house of Mr. Samuel Marvyn; tea at seven.

“What is this Young Ladies’ Band?” said the young ladies to each other, who had heard the regular announcement of the band meeting, or at least sat under its announcement from the pulpit for every third Saturday in the month during many months. Now this cream-tinted note aroused their interest.

“This is something new under the sun, isn’t it?” said the gentlemen, one to another; and straightway some of them reflected that they ought to know more about missions, they supposed. At least, they would go; that much encouragement to the cause they would certainly give. Neither did the matter stop with this single invitation. Cousin Charlie had occasion to discover before the week was past that something at least equally as important as a church fair was in progress. At every corner, in every street-car, at the church-door, in short, wherever he met a young lady, he was liable to be greeted with the interrogation: “We shall see you at the band meeting, I hope?” or, “We are expecting you to help us on Thursday!” or, “Shall you go to the band meeting, Mr. Archer?” according to the degree of intimacy between the parties.

Of course, being courteously invited to a young peoples’ gathering, the young people courteously responded, and on Thursday by five o’clock the young ladies who gathered in Mr. Marvyn’s parlors would have astonished the northwest corner of the church. Neither had energy exhausted itself in invitations. A careful programme had been arranged and was presented. It was wonderful how many young ladies had been found to do, so soon as something definite and tangible had been given them to do.

The Misses Heber would sing, of course they would. Why not? They had voices like birds, and loved to sing as well as ever birds can, and they sang that evening. Miss Lillie Brooks could, and would, and did, recite as sweet a missionary poem as ever thrilled an audience. Neither was the devotional portion of the hour forgotten. The President’s heart beat fast, it is true, and her cheeks were red, yet she had earnestly counted the cost, and determined not only to give her voice to the cause but to make all the young ladies help her, so she distributed the slips of paper, containing each a Bible verse, over whose selection and careful writing she and Cousin Charlie had spent several evenings, and there followed a well-chosen and impressive Bible reading, helped by some grand voices which were unused to reading Bible verses, not so much because they were unwilling to read them as because no one had ever asked them.

Then the President prayed; then there followed her in prayer, little Susie Scoville, much younger than any of the others, but an earnest, consecrated little Christian, who had months before determined to do, always, what she could, and who, when the President asked her privately, answered, with glowing cheeks and doubtful voice: “Oh, Miss Fannie! I’ll try.”

Then there followed her, sweet, fair, timid, Emma Nelson, whom nobody ever thought would be willing to pray in public, but something in the earnest voice and simple words of the girl kneeling beside her, so much younger than herself, nerved her voice to try. And so, this became a pleasant part of the afternoon, despite all their fears and tremblings.

Then the gentlemen began to honor their invitations and came, in cheery groups, fresh from the outside world, banishing all formality and stiffness by the very bustle of their coming. Then cups of coffee and sandwiches, simple, easily prepared, and easily served, seemed to bring with them a full tide of talk, and destroy the last vestige of formality.

Nor was this the entire programme. No sooner was the debris of the supper cleared away, when an exercise, so carefully planned and prepared that it had all the grace of an impromptu about it, was presented for the entertainment of the guests. It was nothing more formidable than a series of questions and answers, the questions appearing to come from any person who happened to think of one that she desired to ask, and the answers appearing to emanate from those who happened to be informed. Simple, natural questions, as for instance:

Miss Laura Proctor said suddenly, and apparently without a shadow of premeditation, “This is quite a large band meeting, isn’t it? When were young ladies’ bands first formed? Does anyone know?” And one who knew gave most informally the answer.

“I wonder if they have succeeded in raising much money?” questioned another.

“Oh, yes,” said another: “why, I read only yesterday, that—” and then followed some delightful figures.

“What are they doing with the money? Is it used for any special work?” queried another, and the answer was prompt from a voice across the room.

“What is the use of missions, anyway?” said a skeptically inclined young lady; “hardly any of the heathen are converted after all.” The answer to that was simple and conclusive, and the talk went on.

One young lady told of what she had read that Mrs. Mateer said last month.

“Who is Mrs. Mateer anyway?” asked a girl who would not have dared to ask it, had the question not been on her carefully studied paper, lest she might thereby have exposed her ignorance.

“Why, she is a missionary in China,” was replied, and then there followed little touches of her peculiarly interesting work, called out by question and answer.

You see the point; I wish you could have been there to have heard how well it was managed, ands how thoroughly the young ladies themselves became interested in the talk. Several of the gentlemen fell so readily into the trap that they produced questions from the impulse of the moment, which taxed Fannie Archer’s wits to the utmost, and would once have embarrassed her utterly had not there flashed over her the idea of appealing to Cousin Charlie for information, and in the wicked satisfaction which she felt in seeing him obliged to say, “I really do not know,” she regained her composure. But the first general meeting of the Harrisville Young Ladies’ Band was a success. Neither was there danger of that portion of the branch withering soon. A taste of success made the leaders thereof long for success.

Also there came, as if by accident, a special interposition of Providence to them soon after. Behold, it was announced in the Harrisville Church that Mrs. Mateer was in this country and would address the ladies of the First Church on next Thursday afternoon. Straightway the ladies of the Band gave each other little appreciative smiles. They knew who Mrs. Mateer was. Some of them who a month before would hardly have known of her existence, felt posted, felt able to post others.

“Oh, yes,” they said, “she is a returned missionary from China. She has had a very interesting experience; you must go and hear her.” And they began to feel that they knew something about what was going on in the world; and they went to the Thursday afternoon meeting. So did others; and to those who heard, and to those who heard of her, through those who did, there came an inspiration in Harrisville for missions that will tell for eternity.

Today there is no fear of blight for the buds in the Harrisville Branch. They are continually talking up that band. Of this fact the said Cousin Charlie has become so convinced that does there occur a moment’s lull in a conversation where two or more young ladies are present, he is sure to turn with animated face, and a voice exactly simulating one of the energetic of their number, and say:

“Oh, girls, what shall we do for our next Band meeting?”

What did they do? Oh, dear, you don’t expect me to tell you?

What can a band of wide-awake, energetic, earnest-hearted, thoroughly roused young ladies do for missions? Rather what can they not do?

I think the Harrisville Band boasts the banner membership today. They are eager as ever. They are more earnest; the work has gone beyond the regions of entertainment; it has taken on strength and power; yet they are always struggling after entertainment; for there are always young men and women, new ones coming within the circle of their influence, who must be caught before they can be made to serve. Yet should you ask the Harrisville Young Ladies’ Band today what they did to make their band so large and so effective, I am not sure that they would not look from one to another, slightly puzzled how to answer. There are so many little things to do that cannot be grouped into one brief answer. Perhaps they would fall back with a laugh on that one sentence which they never forgot: “Oh, we talked it up.”

Yet I may tell you, that there is a secret behind that secret. It was discovered when those three girls looked at each other with determined faces that Saturday afternoon in the old church, and said “Something must be done.”

Where there is a will, there is a way. Is that it? Ah, there is yet a secret behind that secret, for the force of strong wills was brought to bear upon this subject only, when, laying aside her timidity, and her shrinking, and her poor attempts at guiding, Fanny Archer let book and pride slip from her that afternoon and said with full heart, “Let us pray.”

In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me, and brought me out into a large place.

There is strong will power in the Harrisville Band; there is an eager looking out for the little things that will help; there is a wisdom like unto that which the children of this world use when they mean to succeed, and there is a consecration of time and strength and pride, all on the altar; and the buds and blossoms of that branch, nurtured as they are under the shadow of the true vine, shall bear fruit.

They shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

The End

A Stranger in New York

28 Mar

If you’ve read Isabella’s novel Ester Ried’s Namesake, you probably remember Esther Ried Randall’s reaction when handsome Professor Langham invited her to join a party he was organizing.

His plan was to drive a group of friends to the city to spend the day, then treat everyone to an evening show at the theater.

A 1908 theater poster for Guiseppe Verdi’s opera, “Aida.”

Poor Esther! She wanted so much to drive to town and spend a day shopping and seeing the sights; but her loving Christian parents had taught her that good Christians did not attend theater performances.

“Beverly” was a popular play in 1904. It was based on the best-selling novel of the same name by George Barr McCutcheon. Renowned artist Harrison Fisher created the poster artwork.

With her parents’ scruples in mind, Esther declined the professor’s invitation, saying:

“I may as well tell you plainly that I do not attend the theater.”

“Oh, is that all? As a rule I think I may be said not to do so myself. But isn’t it drawing the line rather closely, being in fact what might be called Puritanical, not to go at all?”

There was an amused smile on his face and a note of amused toleration in his voice. Still, Esther might have answered him quietly but for that word “Puritanical.” Over that she flamed.

Doris Farrand struggled with the same issue when her boyfriend Richard invited her to attend a play with “a splendid moral lesson” in the book Doris Farrand’s Vocation.

In 1898 “The Sorrows of Satan,” based on the best-selling novel by Marie Corelli, was a moralistic play with a Faustian theme.

When Doris declined his invitation, Richard couldn’t understand her reason; neither could Doris’s sister, Athalie, who told Doris:

“It seems narrow-minded to object to [theater-going] these days. Why, Doris, the very best people go to this particular play.”

“The Curse of Drink” was a 1904 temperance play that portrayed one man’s addiction to drink, and it’s affect on his family.

Doris’s boyfriend was a seminary student; he was studying to be a minister. Surely, he argued, he was a better judge of what was right and wrong; surely Doris should trust his judgment and go with him to the theater.

“Alice Sit by the Fire” was a sweet, wholesome play written by J. M. Barrie, the author of “Peter Pan” and “The Little Minister.” Actress Mary Shaw starred in the 1907 production.

But in the end, Doris stood firm in her decision to remain at home, which didn’t please Richard at all.

Esther Randall also stayed at home, and struggled with the idea of living by her parents’ “hated scruples.” She felt she was missing out on all the fun in life, merely because her mother and father had some old-fashioned ideas.

Esther’s best friend told her:

“You live in a little narrow space all hedged about with ‘Thou shalt nots’ or ‘I must nots,’ and that seems to be all there is of your religion.”

Esther couldn’t have agreed more!

In the book, Isabella describes Esther’s struggles in a very compelling way. Isabella understood what it was like to be young and want to go where her friends went and do that they did.

“The Shoemaker” was a heart-warming 1907 play that promised it’s audience “tears and laughter.”

But as a Christian, Isabella was very aware of the example she set for her family, friends, and acquaintances.

And because her husband was a minister, Isabella knew members of the congregation scrutinized her behavior—some did so to take inspiration, and others to find fault.

Whatever their reasons, Isabella knew people watched her, and she was careful to set what she hoped was a good and clear example of Christian living.

She often mentioned Romans 14:15-16 as her guide:

For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.

Therefore, do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.

Isabella knew those verses weren’t just about food; they applied to anything a Christian might do or say that could influence others.

This innocuous-looking ad for a new play, “A Stranger in New York” appeared in an 1890 Brooklyn, New York newspaper.

She knew that if a non-believer—or a new or struggling Christian—should see her entering a theater to see a morality play, that non-believer might assume that she went to other plays, as well, and that she considered any theater production to be acceptable.

This poster for “A Stranger in New York” may look innocent by today’s standards; but in 1890 it was quite risqué. Ladies did not lift their skirts to show their ankles; nor did they allow men to put their arms around them in a familiar manner.

Isabella didn’t want to run that risk, so she made it a rule in her life not to attend the theater for any reason.

Another poster for “A Stranger in New York.” The image includes every possible element that was contrary to Christian standards of the time: women wearing short skirts and scandalously revealing leotards, cigars, wine, and flirtatious behavior.

She wasn’t alone in setting that standard. In 1892 Methodist Bishop John Heyl Vincent (a co-founder of Chautauqua Institution) published a short book titled Better Not.

In his book Bishop Vincent explained why Christians should ask themselves hard questions about their actions, and whether those actions were harmful or helpful to a soul who may follow their lead.

Isabella agreed with Bishop Vincent’s position, and even mentioned his book Better Not in her story of Esther Ried Randall’s struggle with “scruples.”

She hoped that young Christian women who read Esther’s story would be inspired to keep those two verses in Romans foremost in their minds whenever they planned an evening entertainment with friends and family.


You can read Bishop Vincent’s book Better Not for free! Click here to find it on Google Books. Then click on the red “Ebook – Free” button to read it on your phone or table, or to download it as a pdf.

And you can click on the book cover to find out more about Ester Ried’s Namesake (Book 7 in the Ester Ried Series).

The Long Way Home

12 Mar

In 1912 Isabella Alden published her novel The Long Way Home. She was 71 years old at the time.

She had begun a trend about ten years before of writing books directed toward adult readers. It began with Mara, her most controversial novel.  Mara (published in 1902) was about a young woman who inadvertently married a man who practiced polygamy.

Unto the End told the story of a young wife’s dilemma when she discovered her husband’s infidelity; it was published the same year.

For several years thereafter Isabella regularly published new novels with her adult readers in mind:

1904 – Doris Farrand’s Vocation

1905 – David Ransom’s Watch

1906 – Ester Ried’s Namesake

1907 – Ruth Erskine’s Son

1908 – The Browns at Mount Hermon

1911 – Lost on the Trail

In each book, Isabella tackled important and emotional topics. She wrote about young women who wanted to be judged on their own merits, instead of on their wealth and social standing (or lack thereof).

She also wrote about women who sought real purpose in their lives by working to make a different in the world in Jesus’ name.

She even wrote about one woman’s struggle to love an unlovable daughter-in-law (in Ruth Erskine’s Son).

Isabella continued that trend with The Long Way Home. The story is about Andy and Ilsa, a young couple in love, and their impetuous decision to marry. They exchange marriage vows on the very day Ilsa graduates from high school!

An original illustration from The Long Way Home, showing Ilsa and Andy at a Chautauqua-style summer encampment.

It isn’t long before their hasty decision—combined with a selfish streak in one and a lack of understanding in the other—begins to lead Andy and Ilsa down a path that may undermine their marriage vows.

Ilsa’s mother counsels her to refuse Andy’s suit, saying, “He’ll never be able to buy you diamonds.”

In her adult books Isabella often wrote about the strain and unhappiness that results when a husband and wife do not share the same religious views, and she explores that premise in this story.

A new acquaintance senses Andy’s heart is open to accepting Christ. She invites him to join her family for dinner and a revival-style lecture given by a premier preacher of the day.

In The Long Way Home, Andy is given many opportunities to choose to follow Jesus Christ, but each time he takes a different path because his eagerness to please Ilsa overrides the callings of his own conscience.

Ilsa also struggles with her conscience, but it takes a dramatic turn of events before she’ll admit that she, too, contributed to the turmoil in her marriage.

Ultimately, the very fact that Andy and Ilsa failed to place God at the center of their union turns out to be one of the great wedges that threatens to drive them apart.

As the title suggests, Isabella finally brings her characters “home” and they have their happily ever, but only after Andy and Ilsa learn to put their trust in God before each other.

The Long Way Home is now available as an e-book for only 99 cents! You can find it at these bookseller sites:

          

You can learn more about Isabella’s books mentioned in this post by visiting her Books page.

Read Along with Mrs. Fenton and the CLSC

7 Mar

One of Isabella Alden’s most touching characters is Mrs. Fenton, a homemaker and mother who played a pivotal role in The Hall in the Grove.

Mrs. Fenton had no pretentions; she considered herself an average person, and believed her only talents were as a housekeeper, wife, and mother.

Isabella wrote of her:

Her bread was of the lightest and sweetest. Her chambers were kept in that delicate purity which rests weary heads, and sometimes hearts. Her windows were as clear as hands could make them; her snowy curtains were looped in graceful folds, and with just the right tint of ribbon to blend well with surroundings. Her vines and plants climbed and budded and blossomed in luxurious fashion. Her husband’s buttons were always in place, held by firm threads of her placing; his collars and cuffs shone brilliantly, for her own hands clear-starched and ironed them. Indeed, in whatsoever department of home life you looked, you would be likely, after thorough investigation, to pronounce Mrs. Fenton a model.

Mrs. Fenton’s fourteen-year-old son Robert was her pride and joy. She raised him to be . . .

Straight as an arrow, morally, as well as physically—a grand, truthful, earnest-hearted boy.

She also raised him to be a good student, to take his studies seriously, and apply himself to every lesson and exam.

Mrs. Fenton herself had been a bright student, but her own education as a girl had been limited; so as Robert progressed through his studies, she began to feel her own limitations more and more.

When Robert asked her help with a homework problem, Mrs. Fenton realized she not only didn’t know the answer, she didn’t even know how to steer him toward finding the correct answer himself.

And when he sought her input in preparing for a topic that will come up on an important exam, she didn’t even understand the subject he’s asking about. With similar incidents became more frequent, poor Mrs. Fenton felt “a stab in that mother’s heart.” Her greatest fear is that Robert will one day soon recognize her short-comings and he’ll be ashamed of her.

This CLSC ad appeared in an 1896 edition of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.

So when Mrs. Fenton visits a friend and hears about the Chautauqua Scientific and Literary Circle for the first time, she begins to wonder if the program may be the answer to her worries.

This eight-page pamphlet for the 1885-1886 school year describes the CLSC program in full. Thousands of adults across the country wrote to the CLSC every year, requesting their annual pamphlet. Click on it to read the entire brochure.

Once Mrs. Fenton understood what the CLSC was and what it could do for her, she became an advocate of the program in her town.

So what, exactly, was the CLSC?

A CLSC receipt for membership dues, 1887.

The CLSC was an education program for adults—young and old—who were unable to obtain a college education. For an annual membership fee of fifty cents (plus the cost of books) adults could enroll in the CLSC’s systematic course of reading in key subjects:

History
Literature
Science
The Arts

The beauty of the program was that members could earn the equivalent of a four-year college course . . . from home!

Imagine receiving one of these beautifully illustrated envelopes in the mail from the CLSC! This one is from 1885 and bears the motto, “Never Be Discouraged.”

CLSC members followed a weekly outline that required them to work a little every day and read prescribed passages from selected books. Then, once a year, they completed an examination (the CLSC called it a “memoranda”) that consisted of questions about the books they’d read. The questions . . .

. . . are to be answered, as far as possible, from memory; where memory fails, the students are expected to refer to their books for help, but to give the answers in their own language.

The exam was typically four pages of questions, but to earn extra credit, members could elect to complete a sixteen-page paper, containing questions that were more comprehensive. An 80% score on the expanded memoranda earned the member a special white seal on their diploma.

The offices of the CLSC on the grounds at Chautauqua Institution in 1896.

Four years and four such annual exams later, CLSC members earned a college degree that carried the same weight and prestige as any other college or university in the country.

A CLSC diploma. This one bears several seals of post-graduate courses of study.

The CLSC program was incredibly popular. Some members followed the program alone. Some members organized into local circles. By 1881 there were over 1,000 local circles in towns and villages across the country.

A CLSC circle in rural Lewisburg, Tennessee, 1911.

These circles—composed of men, women and teens—met in city apartments and rural farm houses. They discussed a variety of topics related to their reading assignments, from the conduct of the Greeks and Romans, to the hereditary line of English kings.

The College Hill Circle in Winfield Kansas, 1913. The oldest and youngest members were aged 76 and 13.

Some local circles arranged lectures or organized public discussions in town halls. Other circles organized by members’ heritage; the CLSC furnished them with text-books in their native language.

A San Diego, California circle in 1915.

In CLSC circles around the world household servants read Shakespeare’s sonnets alongside society matrons; bank presidents discussed the history of Hadrian’s Wall with grocery clerks.

A CLSC circle in Enid, Oklahoma in 1911. The ladies in white in the front row are in the graduating class.

It’s no wonder that Mrs. Fenton was intrigued by the idea of joining the Chautauqua Scientific and Literary Circle. She quickly realized that a CLSC circle in her home town would be the answer to her troubles . . . and her prayers.

You can read all about Mrs. Fenton’s efforts to organize a CLSC chapter and how it changed not only her life, but the lives of her friends and neighbors, in The Hall in the Grove.

Click here to read The Hall in the Grove on your Kindle, tablet, smart phone or PC.

Click here to read it on your Nook.

Did you know you can still join the CLSC? All it takes is payment of a modest membership fee and a commitment to read a book a month from the CLSC’s approved book list.  You can find out more and download their approved book list by clicking here.

And if you’d like to know what it’s like for a modern day woman to read her way through the CLSC program, be sure to read The Hall in the Grove blog.

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Let’s Go Sledding!

28 Feb

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

Children sledding in Washington D.C. in 1915

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

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

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

A sledding party in Rochester, New York, 1908.

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

A 1910 toboggan party

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

Sledding in Central Park, New York in 1900

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

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

Sledding on an icy pond in 1869

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

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

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

An 1885 ad for Star Toboggans

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

The Toboggan Party by artist Henry Sandham, 1882.

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

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


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

A Dozen of Them

Her Mother’s Bible

Sidney Martin’s Christmas

 

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Quotable

23 Feb

Evil habits are webs which are too light to be noticed until they are too strong to be broken.

New Free Read: “A Test Case”

22 Feb

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

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

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


A TEST CASE

Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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