Free Read: A Ten-Dollar Christmas

This month’s free read is a short story Isabella wrote in 1891 about the joy of giving at Christmas time:

Book cover for A Ten-Dollar Christmas. A woman stands with two children, dressed inc oats and hats, stand on the street looking into a shop window. The window display shows dolls, toys, a Santa Clause coming out of a chimney, a vase of flowers on a table, and a framed print in front of a Christmas tree decorated with toys.

It’s the worst Christmas ever for wealthy Adele Chester. Her mother and father are in Europe, and Adele has been left behind to stay with her Aunt Martha … on a farm! Her parents sent her money to spend, but where would she spend it? And on what? Then a little girl named Janey enters her life, and suddenly Adele’s Christmas takes on a whole new meaning.

You can read “A Ten-Dollar Christmas” for free!

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Free Read: A Gingham Patch

This month’s free read by Grace Livingston Hill is a wonderful short story about a minister in need, answered prayers, and the spirit of giving.

You can read “A Gingham Patch” for free!

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

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

Earle’s Afterwards Tree; Part 2

Earle and his friends plan to make the days after Christmas special for one deserving family in Part 2 of “Earle’s Afterwards Tree.” If you missed Part 1 of the story, you can read it here.



Part 2

Perhaps the Crawfords never had a busier day than that one in which the Hunters went to help keep Grandmother’s birthday. It was such an important day that Mr. Crawford actually stayed from the office for several hours to help!

The Hunters’ sitting-room was found to be in good order, and with so little furniture in it that very little was to be done to make it ready for the tree. But after that was dragged in, and set up in state in the very center of the room, business began.

Christmas Tree

No “afterwards,” surely, had ever grown after the fashion of this one! There were dollies, and books, and slates, and drawing paper, and Christmas cards, and jackknives, and stockings, and dresses, and caps, and mittens, and hoods, and sacks, and—but what is the use of trying to tell it? One present must be described. It filled Earle Crawford’s heart full almost to overflowing with joy. Robbie Hunter, although he was nearly six years older than Earle, was nevertheless a dear friend of his. Now, Robbie Hunter had remarked to him perhaps twenty-five times already this winter that if he only had a bicycle he could get lots of errands to do for folks and earn a good deal of money.

“You see,” he would say, “we have so little snow here, that a bicycle can be used almost all winter; and things are stretched so far apart that a fellow can’t do many errands before the day is done, if he has to depend on his feet; and as for the street cars, why, they take all the profits.”


Earle had listened and been convinced, and the two had wearied their brains trying to plan some way by which a bicycle might be secured; all to no purpose up to this time. Yet here, standing under the tallest branches of this “afterwards” tree was a first-class bicycle in perfect order, although not quite new, and marked:

Robert E. Hunter; from Santa Claus’ cousin.

“Because,” said the giver, “Santa Claus is supposed to come this way only at Christmas time, but his first cousins scurry over the country for the ‘afterwards’ things.”

When Mrs. Crawford saw that bicycle, she said, “Oh, poor boy! That must have been hard. But wasn’t it noble in him?”

That needs explaining. The bicycle had belonged to Dr. Holland’s only son, Fletcher. It had been a present to him on his last birthday.

“A trifle too large for him just now, perhaps,” his uncle had said, “but I wanted to get one that would last; and he’ll grow to it.”

No, he wouldn’t. The accident which had broken his leg and hurt his hip, happened months before Robbie Hunter was hurt, and now Robbie was out on crutches, and with a fair prospect of throwing them aside in a few days. But Fletcher Holland would never be able to do without his. Oh, worse than that; he knew his father feared that even crutches could not be used much; and that by and by he would be unable to step at all. It was some trouble about the hip which Fletcher did not understand, but he knew the fact as well as though they had told him, which they tried not to do. Yes, it had been hard. It took him one long, bright morning, sitting in his easy chair, with one hand on his crutch and the other just covering the quiver on his lips while he gazed out of the window at nothing, and thought. Should he? Could he? Why not? It was his very own to do with as he would. Robbie Hunter needed it; could help support the family with it, and he, Fletcher …

Then there was a long break even in the thoughts, and Fletcher let go his crutch to brush away the tears lest mama should come in and see them. But he settled it that morning, and sent the bicycle in the afternoon around to the Crawfords, to be ready for the tree.

Well, the busy day was done at last; so was the work. None too soon, although the Hunter family did not get back until after five o’clock. They had not meant to stay so late; but Grandma had cried when they talked of going, and said it was probably her last birthday with them, and they had lingered to comfort her. Because of this, and some other things, the ride home was a quiet one. They had had a good day, and a good dinner. Grandma’s son-in-law was far from wealthy, but he had a farm, and a good many things can be raised on a farm to make a dinner table inviting. Aunt Jane had done her best, and everybody enjoyed it. Yet, in spite of it, the Hunters were getting hungry again. Dinner had been quite early in the day for Grandma’s sake; now it was five o’clock, and it was found to be impossible to forget that they had almost nothing in the house for supper. Oh, yes, they had bread, of course, and some butter; they were not starving; but stale bread and butter which one needed to remember was scarce and high-priced, did not make a very inviting meal. Mrs. Hunter, as she tucked her shawl closer about the baby and snuggled him to her, could not help thinking how dingy and desolate the little kitchen would look tonight with its fireless stove, and the chill of a day alone upon it. Other people too, looked at the Hunter cottage and thought somewhat the same thoughts.


“Isn’t that a gloomy little house where the Hunters live?” Carl Burton asked his father as they drove by on their way from school. Mr. Burton nearly always stopped at the school-house for Carl and Alice; he had them with him now, tucked among the bright-colored robes, and done up in costly furs. The Burtons all turned and looked at the little house.

“Yes,” said Mr. Burton, “it does look rather desolate. The Hunters are having a hard time, I hear. I suppose they will not have much of a supper tonight; and here you and Alice are fretting because I forgot to order the angel cake; when we shall probably have cold turkey and muffins, and I don’t know what not, I presume the Hunters will have to be contented with plain bread and butter.”

Much he knew about it! Mrs. Crawford’s cook, Nannie, and Mrs. Holland’s second girl, Kate, were at that moment engaged in putting the finishing touches to as dainty a tea table as the Burtons themselves could desire.


There was even cold turkey, in delicate pink and white slices, and angel cake, besides. This supper had been Earle Crawford’s final stroke of preparation. “Because, you know, mama, they always have splendid Christmas suppers; and an afterwards Christmas ought to be just as nice.”

Just as Nannie set a plate of muffins on the corner of the stove to keep warm, Kate exclaimed: “There they are! Now let’s scud!”

Away they scurried, out of the back door and down the hill, just as Clara Hunter blew around the corner holding to her bonnet with both hands lest the wind carry it away.

“Give me the key, father,” she had said, “and I’ll run around and unlock the back door so that mother can get in quick, with Baby. And I’ll have a fire in a—Why-ee! We didn’t lock this door, after all! Why, there is a fire, mother! There’s—Oh, mother, mother! What does it mean?”

They were all in the kitchen by this time, Father, and Robbie, and all. For the first minute they stood and stared. There was the table laden with dainties, aglow with light from a new lamp which did not smoke, and had come to stay!

“I didn’t know there were witches nowadays,” said Father Hunter, and he rubbed his eyes.

Robbie hobbled around the table to investigate. “Look here!” he said, “Here’s a card; and it says on it: ‘An Afterwards Christmas from Santa Claus and his friends.’”

At last they got down to that table; the horse having been come after by an unusually obliging fellow from the Works, who said he wanted her right away, and it would be all right to leave the wagon in the back yard for the night; Mr. Crawford said so.

“Good!” said Robbie, rubbing his hands. “Now we can sit right down and eat this supper which the witches have brought, while it is hot. Mother, I wouldn’t be afraid to wager my old hat that Mrs. Crawford’s Nannie made those muffins; they look just like her.”


Whoever made them, the Hunters voted them and everything else splendid; and were not too busy wondering and guessing, to eat heartily.

Once Mrs. Hunter said, with a bit of a sigh, “There is enough on this table tonight to have been spread over several days.” But a clamor of voices silenced her, father joining in.

“Some of our friends,” he said, “have intended it for a Christmas treat; and we’ll enjoy it and be grateful, even if we should be hungry next week.”

It was Mary who finally said that it was getting very warm in the kitchen; shouldn’t she open the door to the other room a crack? Which she did, and exclaimed, and threw it wide open, and behold! There was the “afterwards” tree in all its glory!

I wish I could describe that tree, and the things which lay about it and under it and behind it; and the bewilderment and joy of the Hunter family.

“What can it all mean?” first one Hunter said, then another. And when each had had his turn, they began again and said it over, for nobody knew how many times. By and by Robbie discovered the bicycle; then he shouted so loud that his mother said:

“Robbie, if you were not on crutches you would almost deserve to have your ears boxed! See how you have frightened Baby!”

Then Robbie sat flat on the floor, and laughed, and laughed, until Mary said, “Why, I believe he is crazy!”

Then what did he do but plump his head into a cushion which was under the tree for the baby, and actually cry! He had wanted a bicycle so dreadfully, and had not expected one any more than he expected to have the moon.

Father Hunter, however, had not heard this last uproar at all. He had found a letter. The very letter which Earle Crawford had feared he would not care for, and was reading and re-reading it, and wiping his eyes and saying, “God bless him! That will help us through. I can see daylight.”

It was a very short letter; only a receipt for eight months rent; the two which he was behind, and the six which were to come before the year would close.

Meantime, Mary, and Clara, and Minnie, were finding packages which read: “From your loving classmates,” or, “For a dear girl, from another girl,” or some such equally bewildering statement.

“Here is another letter,” said Mrs. Hunter.

She leaned over her husband’s shoulder to read, and drew a long breath of intense relief as she said: “Oh, children! It is Dr. Holland’s bill, receipted!”

Christmas Tree and Letter

There! I’m going to give it up. I wanted to tell you about it, but I cannot do the subject justice. Earle Crawford declared months afterwards that the very best time he ever had in his life, had to do with that “Afterwards” tree; and every Hunter in the company agreed with him.

“A capital idea,” said Dr. Holland; “a worthy tribute to a good family who had been unfortunate, and needed only a lift over a hard place. And it cost very little time or money. Everybody gave the little that they could get along without, as well as not. There wasn’t a sacrifice in it; except yours, my boy.” And he laid his hand tenderly on Fletcher’s shoulder, his eyes dimming with tears. But the boy looked up brightly and said:

“Never mind, father, I’m getting used to it.”


Merry Christmas to you!




Earle’s Afterwards Tree; A Christmas Story

One little boy makes Christmas a special day for the entire town in this Isabella Alden story first published in 1895.



Part 1

Christmas was quite over at last, although it had lasted a longer time than usual. In the Crawford family there had been two Christmases, as the children expressed it; at least, there had been two Christmas trees. One at Grandma’s house on Christmas eve, as usual; and then, because Uncle Richard lived twelve miles away and two of his young people had been ill and could not come to the frolic at Grandma’s, all the family went there on Christmas day, and in the evening had frolic number two, with a second tree as much like the first as possible. Even Earle, who was the youngest of the group which gathered at Grandma’s, admitted that perhaps he had had presents enough for once. He could not think of a single “’nother” thing that he truly wanted. Morever, he was quite tired out; so much so, that in the midst of talk in Grandma’s room, after dinner, he curled up in Grandpa’s chair with the down pillow at his head and fell asleep.

And perhaps because they had been talking about the Hunter family just before that, he dreamed of the Hunter family. Never perhaps was there a more vivid dream. Earle’s head bobbed forward quite away from the pillow, although Grandma tried twice to make him more comfortable. His neck was rather stiff when he awoke, much astonished to find that he had been sleeping a long time, and all the family had scattered to their various duties or pleasures; except only Grandma, who sat knitting.

Earle rubbed his stiff neck thoughtfully, busy with his dream. At last his thoughts took shape in a question.

Dreaming of Christmas“I have had such a funny dream! Grandma, why do they hang  Christmas presents on trees? How came they to?”

Said Grandma, after a thoughtful pause, “I don’t really know, dearie; I have heard all about it, but I can’t remember the reason. It has been a custom for a long time, and I think it comes from the Germans; but Grandma has forgotten a good many things.”

While she knitted and mused over the unfortunateness of not being able to answer all the questions of all her grandchildren, Earle continued thinking. Then another question:

“Grandma, do they never have afterwards trees?”

“Afterwards trees! What kind would they be, dearie?”

“Why, you know—Christmas is quite gone for a whole year; and so is New Year’s, but couldn’t there be a tree made like a Christmas one, and all trimmed up and everything, if there was a reason for it, any time along through the month?”

Grandma admitted that if there were sufficient reason this might be done; but hinted that the reason ought to be very large, as people were generally tired of Christmas trees after they were all over, and quite willing to wait a year before they got another one ready.

“I’m not tired of them,” said Earle, meditatively; “and, Grandma, I had such a funny dream. I dreamed about Clara and Minnie Hunter, and all the Hunters.”

Grandma remarked that that was not at all strange, as they had been talking about all the Hunters, she remembered, just before he  dropped to sleep.

“I know it,” said Earle, “and the last thing I heard was Aunt Kate saying it was a shame the children were not remembered in some way. She said she should never vote again to give up the Christmas tree of the Sunday-school, just on account of people like the Hunters. And then, Grandma, I went to sleep and dreamed that we had a tree at the Hunters’, or for the Hunters; I don’t see where it could have been, because it was in a large room—larger than any they have in their house, but all the things on the tree were for them. Oh, such lots and lots of things, Grandma! Some were queer; I couldn’t tell what they were—I guess they were just dream things—but some of them I knew. I saw Laura’s dollie, Augusta Jane, there, just as plain as day; and my last year’s building blocks, and Jack’s great ball, and Susie Perkins’ transparent slate, and ever so many things! Now, Grandma, why wouldn’t that be a good plan? We might have an afterwards tree just for the Hunters; and we might each put something on it of our own that we did not need any more. We’ve got such lots and lots of new ones.”


That was the way it began. Surely never was a plan made, awake or dreaming, which took hold of the hearts of the people better than this one did.

The Hunters belonged to that class of whom our elders say when they talk about them, that they “have seen better days.” They were not wretchedly poor; that is, they lived in a fairly comfortable house, and managed by great care to have enough very plain food to eat each day. But the winter had been, thus far, one of the hardest of their lives. Mr. Hunter had begun it by being ill, and losing his place in the Iron Works. When he was ready to work again, after three months’ time, he had to take a different place in the Works, and receive less pay. Then Robbie had broken his leg and suffered no end of pain, and caused much expense. Last of all, the baby had the scarlet fever and lay for days so near death that the school children hushed their voices as they passed near the corner, and wondered if that baby was alive yet. Baby was alive and doing well; but her long illness made heavy bills; not only to the doctor and druggist, but at the grocer’s as well; for Mrs. Hunter and her oldest daughter, Mary, who were used to sewing steadily all day and every day to help support the family, had not been able to do a thing since Robbie broke his leg.

There were other troubles, too. Mr. Hunter’s brother who owed him fifty dollars, could not pay one cent; and the man of whom he bought feed for his cow was determined to have his pay. All things considered, the Hunters had never come to such a dreary, discouraged place before in their lives. Mr. Hunter, who was a good man, tried to be brave; but he could not help being quieter than usual, and saying occasionally, even before the children, that he did not know what was to become of them if the Iron Works shut down, as there were rumors that they would, for a few weeks. They would have to beg, or starve, he was afraid.

Mrs. Hunter sewed steadily, trying to make up for lost time; but she often wiped away tears, and Mary’s eyes, when she came downstairs after doing the morning work, sometimes looked red. Of course there had been no Christmas tree nor Christmas dinner nor Christmas gifts of any sort, except for Baby. Robbie went out on his crutches for the first time since the accident, and bought a rubber doll for her; and she eagerly sucked the red paint from its cheeks in less than five minutes thereafter. This was the only attempt at gifts. The children, even the younger ones, Clara and Minnie, had been very good; they had not once wished before their father, that they could have a Christmas like other girls; but they had looked sober over that and other things, more than once. Perhaps they would have looked more sober still, had they been able to realize just how hard a struggle their father and mother were having.

So now you are made acquainted with the family about which Earle Crawford dreamed. His “afterwards tree” was hailed by father and mother and aunts, uncles and cousins, as “just the thing.”

The members of the Sabbath-school class to which Clara and Minnie Hunter belonged, all took hold of it with a will; the A-Division of the graded school where Clara went, said they should be delighted to help; and the grammar school to which Robbie Hunter belonged, heard of it and offered to join.

Dr. Holland heard his boy describing what was to be done, and asked a few questions, and said that was a bright thought, he would help it along; the Hunters were worthy people who meant to do their best.

Old Mr. Ames, who owned the house in which the Hunters lived, heard of it, and laughed and said it was the best “afterwards” he had ever known of, and he would write them a letter to put on the tree. To be sure, Earle Crawford looked grave and a bit troubled over this, and said he did not believe the Hunters would care for a letter from old Mr. Ames, and he wanted only real nice things on the tree; but his father advised him not to worry. At last the “afterwards” was ready.


It was delightful to think how things “happened” just right for their plans. Only the day before the tree was to be dressed, and while they were still planning where they should stand it, Mr. Hunter came to Mr. Crawford with a request. Mrs. Hunter’s mother was an old woman, and a lame one. She lived five miles away in the country; and had been used for thirty years to have her children come to spend her birthday with her. Tomorrow she would be eighty-three years old, and her son-in-law had sent for them all to come, as usual; he had only half-time now at the Works, and his wife had no sewing for tomorrow; so they could go if they could get a wagon. Old Billy, the horse at the Works, could be had for the day, but the wagon was in use elsewhere. Would Mr. Crawford be so kind as to lend his old farm wagon? They could all pile into it, and they were rather anxious to go, because the children had gotten along without Christmas this year. They usually went up on the train, but it cost ten cents apiece, and there were eight of them, and—well, they couldn’t this year.

Never was a man more pleased to lend his wagon. He could hardly wait until evening to tell Earle the delightful news. When they heard it a shout went up at the Crawford tea-table. The Hunters were to take themselves off early in the morning. What was to hinder planting the tree in their own little front room, then closing the house and leaving them to discover it as best they might when they reached home?


How did their plan work? Join us for Part 2 on Thursday!