Today I’ll be sharing another of my favorite authors with you. Her name was Isabella Alden, though she also went by her pen-name Pansy. She was born in 1841 and died in 1930. She wrote dozens of books, some of them full-length novels, others collections of short stories, and some short stories published individually. All of her books have a strong Christian message and addressed common issues of her day.
Isabella Alden was also the editor for a children’s magazine, The Pansy. She included a number of her short stories in it, and some of her longer stories began as serial stories in the magazine. To give you a sample of her work, I’d like to share one of her short stories with you. It is from Pansy’s Sunday Book, a compilation of various editions of The Pansy, available on Project Gutenberg. I haven’t read each of the stories and articles in this book, so I can’t recommend them.
AN IDEA THAT GREW By Isabella Alden
It was Nancy and the book together which put the idea into Clara’s mind. They were slipping along in the shadows of the quiet river, she and Wallace. It was the Fourth of July, and most of the boys and girls of the region were busy with what firecrackers they could get—those of them who had not taken a five-mile tramp to the village to attend the celebration.
But Clara was too old to care for firecrackers, and Wallace had had enough of them before he came; he was only here for a few days, and preferred a visit with his sister to all the Fourth of July celebrations that could be planned. She was reading aloud to him bits from a new book which he had brought her as a birthday present; for the Fourth of July was not only the birthday of freedom, it was also Clara’s birthday.
“O, Wallace!” she said, “this is a lovely book.” She had said the same thing at least a dozen times that day. “Just see what queer ideas she had,” Clara continued, meaning the girl in the book; “she was very good—better than anybody I ever knew. I should think it would be lovely to do half the nice things she did. One plan was to pick out a friend—another girl—and try to help her in every way she could.
“Pray for her, you know, and talk with her, and influence her, until at last the girl would be converted; then they two would choose two others to help in the same way, and they were going to see how large a circle they could make of that kind. She thought perhaps she could reach all around the world; she was only a young girl, and she thought if she lived to be a woman perhaps she could. Wallace, what are you laughing at?”
“At the modesty of the young woman and her ideas,” said Wallace, laughing afresh. “She hasn’t gotten around the world yet, I take it; I’ve never seen anything of her.”
“I am sure the idea is beautiful,” said Clara, half-inclined to be vexed with Wallace for making sport of it. “And of course one could do a great deal of good in that way. I would just like to try it.”
“Why don’t you?” Wallace asked, his eyes twinkling; “I’m sure you have a good field for work of the sort here among the natives. Look at that specimen on the bank at this moment. Her eyes are as large as sunflowers, and she looks as though she might take any amount of doing good to and not be hurt by it.”
Clara turned around and stared back at Nancy on the shore.
A little girl with a sallow, wistful face, and great mournful-looking eyes. She had on a worn and faded dress, an apron which was much too long for her, but seemed to have been put on to cover the deficiencies of the dress. She wore neither shoes nor stockings, and was hanging tightly by the two strings to her pink gingham sunbonnet, and gazing at the people in the boat with the most unutterable longing in her eyes that Clara had ever seen.
“Poor thing!” said Clara; “she envies us our row. I wonder if she never has a chance to take a row on the river? Only see how hungry her eyes look.”
“It is more probable that she envies you your hat and dress,” said Wallace; “she keeps her eyes on them. She has an eye to the beautiful, that is what is the matter with her. I am not sure but it is your hair she wants most, after all, though hers is arranged elaborately. She would make an excellent beginning for your scheme, Clara.”
“I am not sure but she would.” Wallace was teasing, but his sister was grave and in earnest. “Row toward the shore, Wallace, and let me speak to her; I never saw a child who had such a wistful look.
“Good afternoon, little girl,” she said pleasantly, as Wallace obeyed directions and the boat drew near, “are you having a pleasant Fourth of July?”
“No,” said the child, without hesitation or ceremony.
“Not? I am very sorry. What has been the trouble?”
“Nothing,” said the child, as promptly as before. Then, seeming to consider something more necessary, added: “Nothing more than always is. We don’t never have no pleasant times to our house.”
“You see,” said Wallace, in low tones, nodding significantly to his sister, “she is in perishing need of being chosen.”
“So she is. Wallace, you are simply making fun, but I am in earnest. I wonder what I could do for the poor little thing? I have been here for two months, and haven’t done a thing for anybody. I have tried to get acquainted with a few of the girls of my age, but they are shy of me; this child does not seem to be shy.”
“Not in the least,” said Wallace. “Very well, how shall we commence? Shall I invite her to sail with us this afternoon as a sort of entering wedge?”
“Do you mean it?” Clara asked, well pleased, and she turned again to Nancy. “Do you ever go rowing on the river?”
“Why not? Would not you like to?”
“Never had no chance. We ain’t got no boat, and nobody won’t lend us poor folks any; and we don’t never go nowheres, me and Billy.”
“Poor little girl! Who is Billy? your little brother? Would you like to take a ride with us this afternoon? If you would you may come down to the landing and get in the boat.”
The child stared for a moment as though she felt her ears were not to be trusted, then turned and made a dash for the landing below. Wallace laughed and steered the boat in the same direction. A few moments more and they were off, with the barefooted Nancy seated comfortably beside Clara.
It is only the very beginning of this story that I have space for. I am wondering if you Pansies cannot sit down thoughtfully and think it out for yourselves, perhaps write it out. The story is true, and it happened years ago. Such a girl as Clara, who was spending a summer in a backwoods region, for reasons which I need not stop here to explain, and such a girl as Nancy met first in the way I have described; and in the course of that afternoon ride Clara heard enough about the home where they “never had no pleasant times,” to make her heart ache.
The beautiful idea in the book kept coming to her, or rather staid with her and kept asking if she could not do something of the kind with this Nancy. To be sure Nancy was not like the girl chosen in the book; she had been of about the same age and station as her friend. “But then,” said Clara to herself, “she did not need help half so much as this one does; and I think with this kind of people I might help one younger than myself better than one of my own age. At least I can pray for her.”
Now the story for you to work out is begun, and I will give you just a few more facts, and then jump to the end of it—that is so far as I know it—leaving you to fill up the blank space. It was a stony, hilly, desolate country side, where the people were very poor, and were cursed with more rum saloons than with any other form of business; where the nearest church was five miles away; where there was no Sunday-school, and no day-school except for three months in the winter. And Nancy, being questioned, showed that she not only did not know what Fourth of July meant, but she did not know what Sunday meant in the true sense of the word; nor did she know about Jesus Christ, save as she had heard “Pap swear his name sometimes!” Did ever girl need helping more?
Now for the end, so far as it can be said to be ended, for the people are still living. Nancy is a young woman who wears the neatest of dresses and hats, and the nicest fitting boots and gloves. She is herself a teacher in the day-school in that part of the country where her home has always been. The school is in session nine months of the year. She is a teacher in the Sunday-school, which has a room of its own, opening from the pretty church where every Sabbath day the people gather to hear of Jesus Christ. And Nancy’s father is the superintendent of the Sunday-school! And there is not a saloon left within two miles of the neighborhood; and the change began that Fourth of July afternoon, when Clara, reading from her new book, caught an idea which grew.
You will perhaps be glad to hear that Wallace, although he professed to be only amused, was much more than that, and helped to form Clara’s “circle” so effectually that he preaches in the little church whenever he comes to this part of the world for a few weeks of vacation. “You haven’t reached around the world yet,” he said to Clara not long ago; “but I am not sure but you will. Do you know that boy Billy wants to be a missionary and go to China?”
Billy is Nancy’s youngest brother.
Now see if you can plan ways by which Clara may have helped to bring about such changes. No, better than that; look about you and see what you can do to make a circle of good that shall reach—as far as it can.
A Few Favorites:
With the dozens of books that Isabella Alden wrote, I can’t limit my favorites to just one or two. I do have a favorite. But there are quite a few others that I have to mention as well.
My favorite book by Isabella Alden is The Browns at Mt. Hermon. It is an interesting story where the majority of people have the name Brown. There are a few mysteries in it, some funny parts, and a number of very good lessons. I think you would really enjoy this book if you haven’t already read it.
Free e-book version: The Browns at Mt Hermon
Free audio-book version: The Browns at Mt Hermon
Some of my other favorites are: The Ester Ried Series, The Chatauqua Girls Series, Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant and Twenty Minutes Late (a pair), and As In a Mirror (a new favorite I just read for the first time)
Have you read any books by Isabella Alden? If so, which ones? Do you have a favorite of her books? Let me know in the comments!