Isabella she was an acknowledged expert in developing Sunday-school lesson plans for young children.
At Chautauqua Institution she taught classes for Sunday-school teachers; and because she was “an advanced thinker,” she encouraged teachers to employ modern devices—such as slates and blackboards—to keep their youngest students engaged and eager to learn.
Some of her teaching methods are revealed in this month’s free read, “An Hour with Miss Streator,” an 1884 short story about a young Sunday-school teacher who has more influence over the hearts and souls of her young students than she will ever know.
In Miss Streator’s Sunday-school class every child is welcome, even the trouble-makers that have been ejected from other classrooms! Although she’s not a trained Sunday-school teacher, Miss Streator is earnest and determined to teach her young students about salvation. Will her innovative methods help her succeed?
You can read “An Hour with Miss Streator” for free!
Isabella Alden taught Sunday school for decades. It was one of her favorite things to do, and she was widely considered to be an expert in the field of teaching very young children about the Bible.
Her favorite age-group to teach was what she called the “infant class”—children who were not yet old enough to read, or were just beginning to read.
She wrote many articles and regularly conducted classes on how to teach children about the Bible and God’s promise of salvation through Christ.
She once said:
“My ideal Sunday school classroom is bright, well ventilated, curtained, carpeted, with low, easy seats, flowers on the desk and in the windows, ornamental pictures on the walls, a good sized portable revolving blackboard in a central position, maps and charts and diagrams, and whatever else will help to illustrate Bible truths gathered into that pleasant spot.”
While that may have been her ideal Sunday school classroom, the truth was that Isabella often taught her little students over the vestibule of a dingy old church. Instead of ornamental pictures on the walls, more often than not she had to use pictures cut out of a Bible dictionary to help illustrate her lesson, and a broken slate for a blackboard.
But Isabella did not suffer those situations for very long. She knew how to brighten a dingy spot and make it attractive:
“Home pictures and flowers are cheap, and tact and patience can transform any sort of a place into something like beauty. I always have the best room I can get, and make it as attractive as possible.”
Once Isabella had the physical location of her Sunday school under control, she was free to concentrate on teaching her little ones.
When she was just starting out, she once had a class that began very badly. The wee ones were afraid to even whisper, and she could not coax them to repeat their verses no matter how hard she tried. When she tried to talk to each little scholar individually, they were so frightened, they began to cry. Clearly, there was no point in trying to coax them into singing a little hymn. So what did Isabella do?
The next week she brought with her half a dozen little girls from her regular schoolroom where she was teaching during the week.
“These little ones were good readers, some of them, but with pretty childlike ways. They knew their lessons and were not afraid to say so, and they sang like birds. The consequence was that my timid ones soon caught their spirit, and my class of infants which bade fair to be a dismal failure became a success.”
What do you imagine it was like to be in Isabella’s Sunday-school class? She gave us some hints in one of the articles she wrote about teaching. Here’s the agenda she typically followed:
Roll call Prayer Collection Singing Five minutes talk about the hymn just sung Distribution of cards for next Sabbath’s lesson Reading those cards in concert Singing Distribution of papers Recitation of verses
She liked to keep the opening prayer brief; just a few simple sentences which she had the children repeat after her. Then they would close with the Lord’s Prayer in concert.
If any of the children remembered to bring their pennies for the collection, Isabella taught them to repeat this little verse as they deposited them in the plate:
Small are the offerings we can make, But thou hast taught us, Lord, If given for the Savior’s sake, They lose not their reward.
Since the majority of her students were too young to read, Isabella found ways to teach them Bible verses and poems to illustrate a short lesson. One of her favorites was a poem that many children still learn today:
Two little eyes to look to God, Two little ears to hear his Word, Two little feet to walk in his ways, Two little lips to sing his praise, Two little hands to do his will, And one little heart to love him still.
And she taught them to “point to the different portions of their body indicated by the words they speak.”
She always selected a verse for the children to memorize. She read the verse with her students aloud and reread it until the bright ones could repeat it from memory; then she talked about the verse with her class, and stressed the importance of reciting the verse correctly. The following week, she used that verse as the foundation for her lesson.
“I like to cluster my talk [around] one personal practical thought that will make clear the fact that the story is for each little boy and girl who hears it. “
Her “talk” was, in reality, a story. She used illustrations from little ones’ home, school and playground experiences to build a relatable story. Then, when she reached the point of the story when the lesson was to be revealed, she let her class bring in the verse they had learned the week before.
“The delight which little children feel in discovering that what they have learned fits in with what their teacher is telling them a story about, can only be appreciated by those who see it.”
When it was time to close the lesson it was her preference that no books or pictures should be distributed.
“No outside matter should be allowed to come in between the pupils and the impression earnestly sought to be made.”
She did not even like to close with singing unless she found a hymn that had a clear connection with the lesson.
“I like better to close with a very brief prayer woven out of the words of the golden text, and so send the little ones away with a sweet and clear impression of the Bible lesson of the day.”
Isabella used the same method in crafting her stories for young people and adults. She chose a Bible verse and a lesson or theme she wanted to communicate about a specific verse, and wove a story around it. It was a process that served her well for the one-hundred-plus novels she wrote in her lifetime!
This post is part of our Blogiversary Celebration! Leave a comment below or on Isabella’s Facebook page to be entered in a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card! We’ll announce the winner on Friday, September 14!
It’s the time of year when millions of Americans enjoy the out-of-doors. In Isabella’s novels, her characters spent summer days walking, hiking, and playing sports of all kinds.
A favorite pastime for Isabella’s characters was the game of croquet, and she may very well have played the game herself.
Beginning in her early twenties, Isabella made several trips over the years to the Castille Sanitarium in New York, where she was treated for health concerns. The owner of the sanitarium encouraged all her patients to play croquet, and it’s possible Isabella followed the doctor’s orders.
Whether she played the game herself or not, she certainly appreciated the game. In her books, characters young and old played croquet, as did the rich and poor. No matter what their circumstances, croquet brought her characters together.
In Cunning Workmen, Sunday-school teacher Mr. Hammond attends a young people’s party where he notices that Peter, one of his young charges, isn’t participating in any of the games.
“What about croquet?” he presently asked. “Miss Blake seems to be enjoying the game, and the boys are very patient in their teaching. Why haven’t you joined them?”
Peter’s honest face grew red and troubled.
“I don’t quite know about them,” he said, earnestly. “I was waiting for you to come so I could speak to you about it. Them red and yellow balls look nice, and I’m most sure I could strike them through those little wires, if that’s what they’re after; but …”
“Well?” his teacher said, in kindly inquiry.
“Why, they look so exactly like them billiard things that they play with down at the saloon. Tom Randolph took me in one day. He plays there a good deal, and if them things are wrong, why ain’t these?”
“But it isn’t the red and yellow balls that are at fault, you know. It is the associations. Billiard playing is generally done for money, and croquet is simply for pleasure and exercise. Isn’t there a difference?”
“Yes,” said Peter, slowly and thoughtfully, “there’s a difference. I see that.”
Leave it to Isabella to find a way to teach a lesson through a simple game of croquet!
She also used the game to show readers the motivations and mindset of her characters. That was the case with the Reverend Mr. Tresevant in The King’s Daughter, when he decided to play croquet rather than attend a temperance meeting.
Later, in Wise and Otherwise, the next book in the series, Mr. Tresevant makes a fateful decision. When a little neighborhood boy is extremely ill and lay dying in his bed, the entire town, including Dr. Douglass, went in search of the Reverend Mr. Tresevant.
Dr. Douglass’ wife later asked if he ever found the minister:
“Did you tell him about Freddy, and how much they wanted to see him?”
“I did,” relaxing into gloom and laconic answers.
“What did he say?” Mrs. Douglass was entirely accustomed to cross-questioning her husband, and understood the process thoroughly.
“That he would go down there as soon as the game of croquet was concluded.”
The lady opposite him set down her cup that had nearly reached her lips and looked at her husband, while an expression of mingled doubt and dismay spread over her face.
“Dr. Douglass! Did you tell him the child was dying, and that they had been in search of him?” she asked in shocked tones.
“I explained the latter fact to him elaborately, and told him the boy was very sick, and that I feared he might not live until morning.”
For once the ever ready tongue opposite seemed to have not a word to utter. When she found voice again, it was to ask, in a very subdued way, “Do they know it at the house—know that you have found him, I mean? What do they think of it?”
“They know that I found him—and where—for they asked me both questions. I did not enlighten them as to his occupation, and said what I hoped and believed was true, that I thought he would be along very soon; but he had not arrived when I came away, a quarter of an hour ago. The game must have proved a complicated one.”
Now, the question is, was Mr. Tresevant’s heart so bound up in the game of croquet that he could not even leave it to answer a summons from the dying?
In the novel, Isabella does go on to explain the reasons Mr. Tresevant would not leave his croquet game to pray with the family of a dying child; and in doing so, she tells us much about the state of Mr. Tresevant’s heart and soul.
In all, Isabella mentioned the game of croquet in at least nine novels. Sometimes she used the game to introduce topics of right and wrong Christian behavior, as in the discussion above from Cunning Workmen.
Other times she simply used it as a way for her characters to enjoy each other’s company on a bright summer afternoon.
How about you? Have you ever played croquet? What do you like most about the game?
Mrs. Dunlap is a model wife, mother, and homemaker. She’s the perfect hostess when guests enter her home, and out of the goodness of her heart she has taken a poor neighbor girl under her wing. Why, Mrs. Dunlap even teaches a Sunday-school class and remembers to keep the Sabbath holy!
Given such stellar qualities, Mrs. Dunlap must surely be a model Christian; but one unusually trying Monday begins to reveal the truth of Mrs. Dunlap’s character.
This week, Joseph learns to be a help instead of a hindrance to one of his teachers; and Mrs. Calland shares a story with Joseph that has an immediate effect on him. If you missed any of the previous chapters, you can read them here.
A Dozen of Them
HE INCREASED HIS PEOPLE GREATLY; AND MADE THEM STRONGER THAN THEIR ENEMIES.
THE LORD IS THY KEEPER.
I WILL BE THY MOUTH, AND TEACH THEE WHAT THOU SHALT SAY.
CHRIST OUR PASSOVER, IS SACRIFICED FOR US.
WHEN THOU PASSEST THROUGH THE WATERS I WILL BE WITH THEE; AND THROUGH THE RIVERS, THEY SHALL NOT OVERTHROW THEE.
Several of the boys were listening and laughing.
“And he drawls his words,” said Joseph, “and loses his place, and drops his lesson leaf; and never by any luck or chance asks a question that isn’t right before him on the leaf. Oh, he’s a rare teacher! I tell you what it is, when I get to be a man I won’t teach Sunday-school unless I have an idea of my own to give out now and then.”
Joseph’s sister Jean overheard this; it made her sad. She knew very well that Joseph’s teacher was one not calculated to win the respect of a bright boy like her brother. He was a good man, but he did not seem to know how to teach a class of wide-awake boys. She talked with Mrs. Calland about it, and wondered if anything could be done. This was the way Mrs. Calland came to have her talk with Joseph.
“How much time do you give to the preparation of your lesson, Joseph?”
“Why, there isn’t anything to prepare. He just asks the questions, and we read the answers, when we can find ’em.”
“I know; but suppose you should come into my history class with as little preparation for reciting as you give to the Bible lesson; what would be the result?”
Joseph shrugged his shoulders. “Mrs. Calland, if you should come into the history class and do nothing but put on your spectacles and read from the book, ‘What is the name of this lesson? What did Moses then say? What did Moses do next?’ I don’t know what kind of lessons we would get.”
“But I want you, for the moment, to forget about every person but Joseph Holbrook, and tell me what he does to make the lesson interesting.”
“I!” said Joseph, astonished. “Of course I can’t do anything.”
“I don’t quite understand why. You certainly asked some good questions in the history class yesterday, which helped the interest very much.”
“Oh, that’s different,” said Joseph.
“I know it is different; you were interested in history, and wanted to know more about it; and you were interested because you had carefully studied the lesson.”
“I should not know a thing to ask in Sunday-school,” declared Joseph stoutly, but Mrs. Calland only smiled on him and went away. It was because of that talk that he stopped, astonished, over the third verse, when he went to his little book to select his next one.
“I will be thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.”
“Queer!” said Joseph aloud. He meant, it seemed queer to him that those words should be there just then. Was it a possible thing that the Lord might mean him, Joseph Holbrook, to consider them as spoken to him, about the Sabbath-school lesson, for instance? Was there anything he could say which might help?
It was this thought which made him read the next lesson over carefully, that very night. There were some references in it which he did not understand, and he resolved the next day to look them up; this he did, and found himself growing interested.
He read the lesson over each day that week, and thought much about it, chiefly because he had become so interested that he could not help thinking about it.
On Sunday, as soon as the lesson was read, he asked, “How many Israelites do you suppose there were at that time?”
The teacher looked astonished, but pleased, and was ready with his opinion.
“Seems to me they had forgotten Joseph very soon,” said young Joseph again. “It wasn’t so very long after he died, was it?”
This started more talk. Then the treasure cities grew very interesting; Joseph had been studying in history that week, something which was connected with them, and the talk which was started was pleasant and profitable.
“Do you think it was a very wise plan which that old king had?” Joseph asked. Then the boys each described the plan which he would have tried if he had been king; and altogether, the superintendent’s bell rang before they were half through with the list of printed questions.
“Didn’t we have a good time today?” said one of the boys, passing out. And the teacher pushed his spectacles on his forehead and told Joseph it did his heart good to see how carefully the lesson had been prepared.
Joseph thought about it a good deal. He said nothing to the scholars at home. None of them were in his class; but he had a little talk with Jean, that night.
“I forgot my verse,” he said. “Didn’t think of it once till Sunday-school was out; but I asked lots of questions, and answered some, and had a real good time; I only did it because I was interested and wanted to. Do you think, Jean, that the Lord might have put into my mind some of the things to ask? Because the others seemed interested in them right away.”
“I haven’t a doubt of it,” said Jean heartily. “He helps us in all sorts of quiet little ways, as well as in great ones. Besides, He promised, you know. You don’t suppose Moses was the only one He was willing to tell what to say?”
Joseph had no answer ready. He sat silent and thoughtful for some time; it seemed a wonderful thought that the Lord could possibly care what questions he asked in Sunday-school. Yet the “verse” had been chosen by him for the month, and in school as well as out, he was bound to trust the Lord for words to speak.
“I know one thing,” he said suddenly, “I shall always study my Sunday-school lesson after this; it makes Mr. Stevens a much more interesting teacher!”
JESUS SAID UNTO THEM I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE.
JESUS SAID UNTO HIM, THOU SHALT LOVE THE LORD THY GOD WITH ALL THEY HEART.
THOU SHALT LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF.
Rettie was seated on the bright rug in the schoolroom. It was Saturday, and it was raining. Joseph had been, for the last half-hour, entertaining Rettie, making a building for her out of spools and buttons, with scissors for the big gate; now she was absorbed in a lovely red paper heart which he had just cut out for her, and he had time to glance over his verses and decide which to take.
“Nobody ever does it; I never saw or heard of a fellow who did.”
Mrs. Calland came into the room at the moment.
“What is it, Joseph, that nobody ever does?” she asked.
Joseph looked up astonished, then laughed; he did not know he had spoken aloud.
“I was thinking of this verse,” he answered: “‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself!‘ I don’t believe people ever do that.”
“I’m not sure; I heard of a little boy, once, who loved a very little girl-neighbor of his so much better than himself that he gave up a whole hour of his Saturday afternoon to her, because she could not go out in the rain.”
“That won’t do,” said Joseph, laughing again, though his face flushed and he looked pleased. “I didn’t want to go with the boys, and I had nothing in particular to do, and would rather amuse Rettie than not; so you see, I just pleased myself.”
“I see. Well, I knew a man once, who in a small matter carried out the rule. He was a poor man and he wanted a certain kind of easy chair for his daughter. A neighbor of his who had lost a great deal of money and was selling his goods, and going to move away, had a chair of the kind wanted, and offered it to this man for five dollars. It was worth a great deal more money than that, but its owner did not expect to get what it was worth, and needed money; so the poor man bought it for five dollars and was to bring the money for it in the afternoon and take it away. In his shop that morning, he heard a gentleman say he was going to offer ten dollars for that very chair. ‘Now,’ said the poor man to himself, here is something for me to think about; I can’t afford to pay ten dollars for the chair, but this man can, and is willing to do it, and its owner needs the money; to be sure I have bought the chair and can claim it if I choose, but then, if I were in his place, what would I want done?’ The end of the matter was, that he went at noon and told the man that he would not take the chair away, because he thought someone was coming to offer ten dollars for it. The other man appeared, just as he said he would, and the owner of the chair got his ten dollars. What do you think of it all?”
“Why,” said Joseph, “I think the first man had a right to the chair for five dollars.”
“I don’t doubt it; at least, what we call a legal right; but judged by the verse you have just repeated, I am not so sure of it.”
Then Mrs. Calland went away, leaving Joseph more thoughtful than little Rettie liked.
He said no more about the chair or the verse, neither did Mrs. Calland; but she smiled to herself when she heard Joseph’s voice in the hall that evening, talking to little Dick Wheeler:
“Here, little chap, is your knife. I really don’t think you ought to sell it for a quarter; it is all I can afford to pay, but if you really want to get rid of it, I know a boy who would pay as much as forty cents.”
“Why!” said little Dick, “I did sell it fast and true.”
“I know you did, but I’ve brought it back. You see, I’m sure you can get forty cents for it, and I’m sure it is worth it, and I’m sure if I were in your place I should want to have it; so here’s the knife, as good as it was day before yesterday, when I bought it.”
“Joseph has discovered that little Dick is his neighbor,” said Mrs. Calland softly. “I hope he doesn’t imagine that I knew anything about the knife. How strange it is that I should have happened to tell him that story! And how steadily the dear boy grows!”
We’re nearing the end of the story; only two more installments to go! Chapters 9 and 10 will post on February 7. See you then!
Though we often think of her as a writer of Christian fiction, Isabella Alden had another demanding career: she was an acknowledged expert in developing Sunday-school lessons for children. In her years growing up in a Christian home and, later, as a minister’s wife, she had plenty of opportunities to judge the effectiveness of Sunday-school programs.
She knew that many Sunday-school teachers had no training at all.
She had seen teachers who didn’t know what the Sunday-school lesson was until Sunday morning when they sat down in front of their class to teach.
She had also seen teachers who didn’t even know the Bible verse on which the Sunday lesson was based.
Isabella knew there was a better way to teach young children the lessons of the Bible in a way they could understand; so she developed a program of education for Sunday-school teachers of young children, in which she gave teachers step-by-step instructions, telling them everything they needed to know … from what to write on the chalkboard, to when to have the children stand and sit.
She shared her program at the Chautauqua summer assemblies, and she spoke at churches about the method. Her Sunday-school lessons were published in regular weekly columns in Christian magazines, such as The Sabbath School Monthly and The National Sunday-School Teacher.
Click on this link to see an excerpt from an 1877 issue of Sabbath School Monthly with one of Pansy’s lessons.
Isabella was convinced that children should be shown that the Bible had meaning for them. She believed children were not too young to learn that the Bible could be a help to them in their day-to-day lives.
It was that premise that inspired her to write three of her most popular children’s books. In Frank Hudson’s Hedge Fence, Frank (a boy of about ten or twelve years old) is constantly getting into trouble. One day an acquaintance convinces him that learning a Bible verse a month will help guide him through the temptations he faces and help him make wise decisions. The story tracks Frank’s progress for several months as he learns the Bible really can help him make good choices in his life.
We Twelve Girls is similar to Frank Hudson’s Hedge Fence. In this story, twelve young teenaged girls, all close friends at boarding school, are separated over the summer months; but they each pledge to learn a new verse every week and find a way to apply the verse to their lives. Over the course of the book, each young lady learns what it means to live a God-centered life according to the Bible.
Another example is A Dozen of Them. In this book, twelve-year-old Joseph has many challenges in his life; but he made a promise to his older sister he would read at least one Bible verse each month and make it a rule to live by. To Joseph it’s a silly promise—how can reading one Bible verse a month make any difference? But to his astonishment, Joseph begins to see changes in his own life and in the lives of those around him, all because of the verses he reads and memorizes.
Frank Hudson’s Hedge Fence and We Twelve Girls are both available as e-books on Amazon. A Dozen of Them was originally published in 1886 as a serial in The Pansy magazine, and we thought it would be nice to reproduce it on this blog, in the same serial format as the original.
Each week you can read a new chapter of A Dozen of Them here and here’s Chapter One:
A Dozen of Them
And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.
I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive forevermore.
Young Joseph sat on the side of his bed, one boot on, the other still held by the strap, while he stared somewhat crossly at a small green paper-covered book which lay open beside him.
“A dozen of them!” he said at last. “Just to think of a fellow making such a silly promise as that! A verse a month, straight through a whole year. Got to pick ’em out, too. I’d rather have ’em picked out for me; less trouble.
“How did I happen to promise her I’d do it? I don’t know which verse to take. None of ’em fit me, nor have a single thing to do with a boy! Well, that’ll make it all the easier for me, I s’pose. I’ve got to hurry, anyhow, so here goes; I’ll take the shortest there is here.”
And while he drew on the other boot, and made haste to finish his toilet, he rattled off, many times over, the second verse at the head of this story.
The easiest way to make you understand about Joseph, is to give you a very brief account of his life.
He was twelve years old, and an orphan. The only near relative he had in the world was his sister Jean aged sixteen, who was learning millinery in an establishment in the city. The little family though very poor, had kept together until mother died in the early spring. Now it was November, and during the summer, Joseph had lived where he could; working a few days for his bread, first at one house, then at another; never because he was really needed, but just out of pity for his homelessness. Jean could earn her board where she was learning her trade, but not his; though she tried hard to bring this about.
At last, a home for the winter opened to Joseph. The Fowlers who lived on a farm and had in the large old farmhouse a private school for a dozen girls, spent a few weeks in the town where Joseph lived, and carried him away with them, to be errand boy in general, and study between times.
Poor, anxious Jean drew a few breaths of relief over the thought of her boy. That, at least, meant pure air, wholesome food, and a chance to learn something.
Now for his promise. Jean had studied over it a good deal before she claimed it. Should it be to read a few verses in mother’s Bible every day? No; because a boy always forgot to do so, for a week at a time, and then on Sunday afternoon rushed through three or four chapters as a salve to his conscience, not noticing a sentence in them. At last she determined on this: the little green book of golden texts, small enough to carry in his jacket pocket! Would he promise her to take—should she say each week’s text as a sort of rule to live by?
No; that wouldn’t do. Joseph would never make so close a promise as that. Well, how would a verse a month do, chosen by himself from the Golden Texts?
On this last she decided; and this, with some hesitancy, Joseph promised. So here he was, on Thanksgiving morning, picking out his first text. He had chosen the shortest, as you see; there was another reason for the choice. It pleased him to remember that he had no lambs to feed, and there was hardly a possibility that the verse could fit him in any way during the month. He was only bound by his promise to be guided by the verse if he happened to think of it, and if it suggested any line of action to him.
“It’s the jolliest kind of a verse,” he said, giving his hair a rapid brushing. “When there are no lambs around, and nothing to feed ’em, I’d as soon live by it for a month as not.”
Voices in the hall just outside his room: “I don’t know what to do with poor little Rettie today,” said Mrs. Calland, the married daughter who lived at home with her fatherless Rettie.
“The poor child will want everything on the table, and it won’t do for her to eat anything but her milk and toast. I am so sorry for her. You know she is weak from her long illness; and it is so hard for a child to exercise self control about eating. If I had anyone to leave her with I would keep her away from the table; but everyone is so busy.”
Then Miss Addie, one of the sisters: “How would it do to have our new Joseph stay with her?”
“Indeed!” said the new Joseph, puckering his lips into an indignant sniff and brushing his hair the wrong way, in his excitement; “I guess I won’t, though. Wait for the second table on Thanksgiving Day, when every scholar in the school is going to sit down to the first! That would be treating me exactly like one of the family with a caution! Just you try it, Miss Addie, and see how quick I’ll cut and run.”
But Mrs. Calland’s soft voice was replying: “Oh! I wouldn’t like to do that. Joseph is sensitive, and a stranger, and sitting down to the Thanksgiving feast in its glory, is a great event for him; it would hurt me to deprive him of it.”
“Better not,” muttered Joseph, but there was a curious lump in his throat, and a very tender feeling in his heart toward Mrs. Calland.
It was very strange, in fact it was absurd, but all the time Joseph was pumping water, and filling pitchers, and bringing wood and doing the hundred other things needing to be done this busy morning, that chosen verse sounded itself in his brain: “He saith unto him, feed my lambs.” More than that, it connected itself with frail little Rettie and the Thanksgiving feast.
In vain did Joseph say “Pho!” “Pshaw!” “Botheration!” or any of the other words with which boys express disgust. In vain did he tell himself that the verse didn’t mean any such thing; he guessed he wasn’t a born idiot. He even tried to make a joke out of it, and assure himself that this was exactly contrary to the verse; it was a plan by means of which the “lamb” should not get fed. It was all of no use. The verse and his promise, kept by him the whole morning, actually sent him at last to Mrs. Calland with the proposal that he should take little Rettie to the schoolroom and amuse her, while the grand dinner was being eaten.
I will not say that he had not a lingering hope in his heart that Mrs. Calland would refuse his sacrifice. But his hope was vain. Instant relief and gratitude showed in the mother’s eyes and voice. And Joseph carried out his part so well that Rettie, gleeful and happy every minute of the long two hours, did not so much as think of the dinner.
“You are a good, kind boy,” said Mrs. Calland, heartily. “Now run right down to dinner; we saved some nice and warm for you.”
Yes, it was warm: but the great fruit pudding was spoiled of its beauty, and the fruit pyramid had fallen, and the workers were scraping dishes and hurrying away the remains of the feast, while he ate, and the girls were out on the lawn playing tennis and croquet, double sets at both, and no room for him, and the glory of everything had departed. The description of it all, which he had meant to write to Jean, would have to be so changed that there would be no pleasure in writing it. What had been the use of spoiling his own day? No one would ever know it, he couldn’t even tell Jean, because of course the verse didn’t mean any such thing.
“But I don’t see why it pitched into a fellow so, if it didn’t belong,” he said, rising from the table just as Ann, the dishwasher, snatched his plate, for which she had been waiting. “And, anyhow, I feel kind of glad I did it, whether it belonged or not.”
“He is a kind-hearted, unselfish boy,” said Mrs. Calland to her little daughter, that evening, “and you and mamma must see in how many ways we can be good to him.”