Isabella’s friend Theodosia Toll Foster was widely published as a novelist and short-story writer. Under the pen name “Faye Huntington” she wrote for the sole purpose of winning souls for Christ. Her story, “Harold Payne’s Easter” was published in the April 1909 issue of a Christian magazine.
Easy-going, self-indulgent Harold Payne never took church or anything else in life too seriously. But one day, while day-dreaming his way through a sermon, something the minister said caught his attention: “May our religion put the stamp of Christ upon the things we do.”
For some reason, those words broke through Harold’s indifference and stuck in his thoughts—and left him with the realization he had, at most, only made a faint impression of Christ’s stamp upon the world. Was it too late for Harold to change his ways?
Isabella often wrote stories that illustrated the far-reaching effects a single act of kindness can have on a person, a family, or a community. This month’s free read is a short story titled “Their Day at the Beach,” and it fits Isabella’s “kindness” theme nicely!
Frances Farnham and Sherman Kennedy have been friends since childhood, although careers and Life’s interruptions have kept them apart for years; but that’s about to change. For different reasons, Frances and Sherman will both be in Florida—she for pleasure, he for business. They have a single afternoon to spend together on the beach, to catch up on each other’s news and rekindle their old friendship. But a chance encounter on a train will change their plans—and their lives—forever.
This month’s Free Read is “Mrs. Knowlton’s Investment” by Isabella Alden.
“I wouldn’t go on a Foreign Mission, not if I were the only woman left in the world to do it.”
Mrs. Knowlton doesn’t believe in sending missionaries off to foreign lands; not when there’s so much of the Lord’s work to be done at home. But when it comes time to donate to Home Missions, Mrs. Knowlton has a problem with that, too. She turns up her elegant nose over any mention of Missionary Societies.
When a friend in need begs Mrs. Knowlton to take her place at a Mission Meeting, she can hardly refuse, though she’d rather be anywhere else. But while she sits with the other ladies, busily fuming and finding fault with every portion of the meeting, Mrs. Knowlton makes a mistake—a mistake so horrible, it just may change her life forever.
You can read “Mrs. Knowlton’s Investment” for free!
Do you remember John Remington? He was the young minister who was the main character in Isabella’s novels Aunt Hannah and Martha and John (1890) and John Remington, Martyr (1892).
In 1893 Isabella wrote a short story in which John made another appearance. Titled “For This,” the story centers around a certain mite-box.
Churches used mite-boxes to encourage people to give offerings. They were named for the “widow’s mite” mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 21:
And He looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury.
And He saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.
And He said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all;
For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God; but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.
Typically, a church distributed mite-boxes on a Sunday to all church goers, including children. Each person was asked to fill their boxes with coins for a specified period of time (such as six months) before the church called for their collection.
Mite-boxes made of paper—like the one featured in the story—could be decorated with the name of the person or family who filled it, or with words or images that had meaning to the church’s cause.
That, in a nutshell, is how mite-boxes were typically managed in the Presbyterian Church; but leave it to Isabella to find a new use for a mite-box in her story!
This month’s Free Read may strike a chord with anyone who tried to cook something that didn’t turn out right (like a Thanksgiving turkey)!
“The Wife’s Dilemma” is a sweet short story written by Isabella’s sister (and Grace Livingston Hill’s mother) Marcia Livingston. Marcia was a prolific author in her own right. She published many short stories in a variety of magazines, and co-wrote stories with Isabella.
Here’s the blurb for “The Wife’s Dilemma”:
Newlywed Dora Avery is well educated in math and science, and speaks several languages; but Dora has never learned the fine art of keeping house. No matter what dishes she sets before her new husband, they’re either burnt or sour. It isn’t long before Dora realizes that all her logical plans and recipe books won’t fill her husband’s empty stomach!
Somehow she must hire an experienced cook or learn the proper way to prepare meals herself; but how?
When she first started out in her writing career Grace Livingston (as she was then known) wrote short stories for several different Christian newspapers and magazines.
In 1891 her story “How One Fanatic was Made” was published in one of those newspapers, and it included two charming wood-cut-style illustrations, one of which you can see here:
It also included one of Grace’s timeless lessons on what it means to live a Christian life:
A devout Christian, Miss Delia Stebbins attends church regularly and reads her Bible every day. She is righteous and strong in her faith, or so she thinks. But when a less-than-desirable family moves in next door Miss Stebbins realizes God’s words are actually God’s instructions for daily life. Is it possible she can make up for the years she’s wasted?
The Reverend Francis E. Clark, president of the World Christian Endeavor Union, said of Isabella Alden:
“Probably no writer of stories for young people has been so popular or had so wide an audience as Mrs. G. R. Alden, whose pen-name, Pansy, is known wherever English books are read.”
Indeed, Isabella enjoyed world-wide fame as an author. By the year 1900 she was selling over 100,000 books a year.
So it’s a little mystifying to see that in 1914, when she chose a new publishing house—M.A. Donohue & Company in Chicago—to publish Tony Keating’s Surprises, the publisher had so little knowledge of who she was, they spelled her name wrong on the book’s cover!
Luckily, that single error doesn’t detract from the pleasure of reading Isabella’s novella, Tony Keating’s Surprises. Here’s a brief description of the story:
For as long as Tony Keating could remember, people have been telling him he was bad, so it was little wonder he came to believe he was just so.
Over the years, Tony has become quite adept at living up to his reputation, by springing tricks and surprises on his parents, his sister, his teachers, and anyone else who happens to cross his path. Why, the entire town believes Tony Keating will come to no good.
Everyone, that is, except Lorena Stanfield. Being new in town, Lorena doesn’t know about Tony’s reputation as the town scamp. With her fresh perspective Lorena sees Tony’s potential for good. But will her gentle influence be enough to transform Tony’s life?
Isabella’s novella The Little Card was first published in 1891 as a serial in The Pansy magazine.
Miss Teenie Burnside’s health may cause her to stay at home, but that doesn’t mean she can’t minister to others. In fact, when she uses her talents to draw and letter some little cards—each with one of the Bible’s Golden Texts—she hopes her cards will encourage others to read God’s Word. Little does Teenie know just how many people her little cards will reach, or what impact they will have on the lives of strangers in need.
Happy February! This month’s Free Read is “Clean Hands” by Isabella Alden.
Like many of Isabella’s stories, “Clean Hands” illustrates the great influence a simple Bible verse can have on someone’s life.
Miss Elsie Burton is looking forward to her vacation in the city. Just think! An entire week of fun, shopping, and seeing old friends. But when her pastor bids her good-bye at the train station with the gift of an odd little book of Bible verses, Elsie embarks upon a journey of self-discovery she never anticipated.
With holiday preparations in full swing, it’s nice to stop every once in a while to remind ourselves of the true meaning of the season.
“A Sweet Old Story” is a short piece Isabella wrote for The Pansy magazine in 1885, telling the story of Christ’s birth in simple terms. The lovely woodcut illustrations below were part of the original magazine issue.
A great many hundred years ago, away and away across the water, one beautiful starry night something happened.
Up among the hills and the rocks the sheep were taking their rest; safe from wolf or tiger because the faithful shepherds watched all night.
They were gathered in a sheltered place around the fire and they were talking. Good men, they were, who believed what God had told them in the Bible, and were watching for his promises to come to pass.
If we had been near I think we might have heard something like this:
“It is a long time that we have been waiting for the King to come.”
“Yes,” says another; “years and years! I remember how my grandmother used to gather us about her and tell us how the Lord was to send us a king to rule over us, and to make all wrong things right. She used to think he might come in her day; and she sat often listening and watching, to see if she could hear his voice.”
“How do you think it will be?” asked a third. “Do you think He will come suddenly from the sky, with bands of music, and guards of angels, and with a crown on his head, speaking in a voice of thunder to all wrong doers?”
The first shepherd shook his head. “I do not know,” he said. “I often wonder how it will be; and I read over and over again the promises of his coming. Some of them sound as though he was to be poor and alone; but how can that be when he is to rule the world? I do not understand it; but I long to see my king.”
Just then a light brighter than the sun shone all around them.
“What is that?” they said.
Could the world be on fire? No, all was quiet down in the valleys; and the earth was sleeping. The shepherds looked at one another and said not a word; but their limbs trembled so that they could hardly stand.
“Look! What is that, coming from the brightness! It must surely be an angel.”
He is speaking. “Fear not,” and his voice was like the sound of music.
As he spoke, the fear seemed all to glide away from the shepherds, and they felt a strange, sweet happiness stealing over them.
Then came the wonderful words: “There was born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour for you; he is Christ the Lord.”
O glorious news! How shall they know where to find him?
“Listen,” the angels tell them. “You will find the baby in a manger.”
What strange news was this! The King of Glory, the Saviour of the world to be found in a manger!
But before they could say a word, suddenly the air was filled with angels. They were singing this song: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace, good-will toward men.”
The music to which these words were sung was not like any that the shepherds had ever heard before; nor did they hear anything like it again, until the angels opened the golden gates and showed them the way to the palace of their King. Only a few minutes, and the angels soared away, the beautiful light faded, the sweet voices were lost in the blue distance, and there was only the sheep asleep on the hillsides, and the stars smiling down on them.
Do you think they thought it a dream? Oh no. Listen to what they said:
“Let us go right away to find the Lord. He will be in Bethlehem; that is the city of David. The Lord has sent his angels to tell this news; we shall see our King!”
And they hurried away.
Did they find the King? Yes, they found him; a little baby in a manger, his father and mother watching over him.
Oh, I don’t know what they said when they saw that baby. I have often wondered whether they dared to touch him, to put his soft hand on their faces, and kiss his sweet pure lips. But this I know. Wherever they went, they told that the King had come, and they had seen him.
Years and years ago it happened, yet the men and women, boys and girls are talking, singing and thinking about it today. The most wonderful night the world has ever known was that in which the angels sang the song of the new-born King.
The shepherds who first told the story have been with the King in his palace, I suppose, for as many as eighteen hundred years, but on Christmas eve in the year eighteen hundred and eighty-five, two sweet little girls are going out with their baskets full of holly leaves and buds, and in the sweet moonlight with the stars looking down on them, are to sing for their sick mother the same sweet old story which I have been telling you.
These are the words they will sing:
The angels, the angels, who sang on Christmas eve,
And waked the shepherds so long ago,
What was the song that they caroled so?
Glad tidings, glad tidings, to you, to you, we bring,
Of peace on earth, good-will to men;
And angels echoed the song again
Glad tidings, glad tidings, to you, to you we bring.
They found Him, they found Him
Beneath the Eastern Star,
And kings and shepherds kneeled down to pray
Around the manger where Jesus lay.
What treasure, what treasure, can little children bring?
And where is the blessed Redeemer now,
That round His cradle we all may bow?
No treasure, no treasure, is half so sweet to Him,
As little children who greet Him here
With loving heart and open ear;
No treasure, no treasure, is half so sweet to Him.
A Note from Jenny:
Isabella often wove her own life experiences—and those of her family—into her stories. I suspect the two little girls and their ailing mother were real people Isabella knew. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to identify who they were, but one day, I hope to discover “the story behind this story” and share it with you.