Miss Huldah's Thanksgiving by Horatio Alger, Jr.
Author: Alger, Horatio, 1832-1899.
Title: Miss Huldah's Thanksgiving.
In: Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper. Vol. 19, no. 479 (Dec. 3, 1864)
Published: New York : Frank Leslie, 1864.
Format: p. 171 ; 42 cm.
Other Name: Russell, William D.
Horatio Alger Collection.
Other Title: Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper.
Location: PS 1029 .A3 M57 1864a (Special Collections)
Optically scanned and encoded by Mark A. Williams
Horatio Alger Digital Serials Project, Northern llinois University Libraries
THANKSGIVING DAY dawned clear and cold. There was no snow upon the ground, but the earth was frozen stiff and the road was rough with little ridges. A brisk November wind was blowing outside, which lent additional cheer to the glowing fires within.
Huldah Greene stepped briskly about the large old-fashioned room, which served at once as kitchen and dining-room. A tall woman, with energy and decision stamped plainly enough on a countenance which had never had any pretensions to beauty. There had been two sisters, Huldah and Susan; the latter had married, and now lived in a town ten miles away, surrounded by a family of children; Huldah had remained unappropriated. Perhaps she had too much else to think of. For ten years she had served as housekeeper in a large country tavern, where she developed into a notable housekeeper, and became famed through all the country round about for the excellence of her puddings and pies and the superiority of her dinners. But this was a wearing life, and told even upon the iron frame of Miss Huldah. So, when the death of an aunt placed her in possession of a comfortable property, she returned to the old homestead, where she kept house by herself. To-day she was not to be alone. She had invited her sister's family to celebrate Thanksgiving with her. She was determined to receive them in a style which should do credit to her housekeeping, and to this end had for a day or two been engaged in making elaborate preparations for the Thanksgiving feast. This result was a supply of dainties which would have sufficed for three times the number she expected.
"You won't catch Huldah Greene stinting anybody," she said to herself. "The children shall have all they can eat, and if it does make 'em a little grain uncomfortable, why it's only once a-year."
Thanksgiving morning had come, the best room had been swept and dusted, the blinds had been thrown open, and the unwonted sunshine fell on the hard flat sofa and the straightbacked chairs ranged like grenadiers against the sides of the apartment. But the kitchen was the more cheerful place of the two. Visible through the half-open closet-door was a long row of piesâ€”apple, mince and pumpkinâ€”rich, and flaky, and appetizing. The turkey was roasting in the tin kitchen before the fireplace, under the vigilant care of Miss Huldah, who had already arrayed herself in a high-necked dress of black bombazine, which had served her for best longer than I can remember.
So the morning wore away. Eleven o'clock came and still Miss Huldah's company had not arrived. As they lived but ten miles off this was somewhat surprising.
"I expect it takes a sight of time to get such a parcel of children washed and dressed, and ready to set out," said Miss Huldah to herself, a little uneasily. "I'm glad I aint troubled with a family. Still, I should think sister Susan might have got here by this time; at any rate, I might as well be setting the table, so I can be at leisure when she comes."
Half an hour passed, the old kitchen clock pointed to half-past eleven, the table was set, and the turkey almost done. Miss Huldah went to the door and looked up the road anxiously.
In the distance she detected the rumbling sound of wheels, though the wagon was concealed behind a turn of the road. "I guess that's Susan," she said, with an air of relief.
But Miss Huldah was doomed to disappointment. It proved to be a neighbor riding home from the village. He slackened his horse's speed as he approached the farmhouse, and fumbling in his coat-pocket, said:
"I've got a letter for you somewhere, Miss Huldah. I was down to the village this morning, and the postmaster give it to me. I expect, from the postmark, it's from your sister."
"From sister Susan!" ejaculated Miss Huldah, in dismay. "Then she can't be coming. I hope she aint going to disappoint me after all."
She tore open the letter hastily, and found that it was indeed as she had feared. Unforeseen circumstances would oblige her sister to remain at home. The letter, which had been written two days previous, contained an invitation to Miss Huldah to spend the day with her sister. Of course it was now too late.
"I'd ought to have got this letter yesterday," she said in a tone of disappointment, as she went back into the house. "It would have saved my cooking up such a stack of things, with nobody to eat 'em."
There stood the table spread for eight. The turkey was nearly done to a turn. Already it was diffusing a delicious odor about the apartment. There was a large plumpudding, and the closet was full of pies.
"Well," sighed Miss Huldah, "it's a shame that there should be nobody to eat all these good things. I shall feel like a fool sitting down to this big table alone. If anybody should come I really believe that they'd think I was gone crazy. I declare, I feel so disappointed, that I don't believe I could worry down a mite."
All at once Miss Huldah was indebted to her good angel for a suggestion, which illuminated her face with new cheerfulness. Perhaps she might find guests after all. She remembered how, when a certain man sent out invitations to a feast and they that were bidden did not come, he went out into the highways and byeways and gathered in the poor and the outcasts, and made them welcome to the feast which he had prepared.
"I declare," said Miss Huldah to herself," I don't believe Mrs. Nelson is able to get a Thanksgiving dinner for her children. Why can't I invite them here? I've got plenty if there were twice as many of them. I'll do it!" she concluded energetically.
With resolute Miss Huldah, to resolve was to act. She put on her cloak and hood, and calling the cat out of doors lest the temptations by which she was surrounded should prove too great for her to resist, bent her steps towards a small unpainted houseâ€”it was little more than a shantyâ€”where Mrs. Nelson and her six children found an humble shelter.
We will precede her.
Mrs. Nelson, herself a worthy woman, had had the misfortune to marry a drunken husband, whose habits had increased upon him until one morning he was found frozen stiff in a snowdrift, where he had fallen in a state of intoxication on his way home from the tavern. How she had since managed to live she herself scarcely knew. Her children were too young to afford her much assistance. Notwithstanding the occasional help she received from the neighbors there was many a day when her children, after eating all she was able to provide for them, were obliged to rise from the table hungry. It will be easily seen that it was quite beyond her power to celebrate Thanksgiving day with the bountiful dinner which is usually associated with it.
"What are we going to have for dinner, mother?" asked Jimmy, the oldest boy.
"There isn't anything in the house but a little salt pork and some potatoes," said Mrs. Nelson, sadly.
"Ain't it Thanksgiving Day, mother?" asked Fanny, who was nine years old.
"Yes, my child," said her mother with a sigh.
"I saw such a jolly row of pies at Miss Greene's," said Jimmy, "this morning when I went in there. Didn't they smell good, though? Just baked, I guess. It's so long since I've eaten a piece of pie that I don't know as I remember how it tastes."
"Why don't you make pies, mother?" asked little Fred, who was too young to understand fully the hard lessons which poverty is not slow in teaching.
"I wish I could, my child," said Mrs. Nelson. "But lard is so expensive. It seems to me as if everything was expensive now. We shall be lucky if we can get enough of the plainest food to eat."
"Wouldn't it be jolly if we could have a roast turkey, mother?" asked Jimmy, who, poor fellow, could not help still thinking about what there seemed so little chance of his tasting. Did you ever have any for Thanksgiving?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Nelson, "we always used to have them at father's. That was before I was married. Afterwards, too, before your poor father got into a bad way we had a regular Thanksgiving dinner."
"Well," said Jimmy, "I should like to try it once, just to see how it seems."
"So should I," chimed in Fanny.
Meanwhile Mrs. Nelson had spread her table, placing thereon a few potatoes and some fried pork.
"You may come up to the table, children," she said. "Dinner's ready."
They were about to commence their frugal repast, when a loud knock was heard at the door.
"I wonder who it can be," thought the widow, as she went to the door.
"Won't you come in, Miss Huldah?" she asked in a tone of surprise.
"No, I can't stop a minute," answered her visitor, her keen eyes taking in at a glance the frugal dinner-table visible through the half-open door. "I only came on an errand. Have you had dinner?"
Mrs. Nelson blushed, though, poor woman, she had little cause to do so. Her poverty was no fault of hers.
"I see you haven't," said Miss Hulduh without waiting for a reply. "I am glad of it, for I want you to dine with me."
"Dine with you?"
"Yes. I expected sister Susan and her young folks, but I've just got a letter saying they can't come, and I don't feel like eating alone. So I should be obliged to you if you'd come over and keep me company."
Jimmy's eyes sparkled, for it was he that had seen the long row of pies which made a part of Miss Huldah's Thanksgiving preparations. There was a glad light, too, in the faces of his brothers and sisters as they heard the invitation.
"I'm very much obliged to you," said the widow, gratefully. "It'll be a real treat to the children. But I'm afraid they don't look fit to be seen in your house."
"Never mind, bring them over just as they are. The dinner's all ready to take up, and it won't wait. So, children, put on your things and come right along."
Ten minutes afterwards the children, half abashed, entered Miss Huldah's comfortable house. An ample table, covered with a snow-white cloth, soon groaned beneath a goodly weight of generous cheer.
"Now, every one of you, get a chair and sit right up to the table," said Miss Huldah, cheerfully. "Mrs. Nelson, you must sit opposite me and help take care of those little ones. I ain't used to looking out for so many. Now, Jimmy, pass your plate, and we'll see what we can do for you."
It is needless to tell how these poor children, unused to plenty, enjoyed Miss Huldah's dinner, nor how much brighter the world seemed to the poor widow who, with thankful heart, beheld her children cheered with a plentiful meal. Miss Huldah was in her element, and seemed bent on filling her little guests to suffocation. But at last the dinner was over. Then the dining-table was cleared away, and the children had many a merry game in the great kitchen. They were to stay to supper, so Miss Huldah insisted, though, sooth to say, they did not need much urging. When at length they were ready to go home, a large basket was packed full, which Jimmy and Fred carried between them.
"I declare," said Miss Huldah to herself, as she sat before the crackling logs in the evening, "I believe I've enjoyed this Thanksgiving better than any I've ever passed. On the whole I'm glad Susan didn't come."
The reader will be glad to learn that this was not the last time that Miss Huldah entertained her poor neighbors, and that a week rarely passed during which a basket filled with specimens of her excellent cookery did not find its way to the humble home of the Nelsons. To them that was indeed a day of Thanksgiving, which opened the heart of Miss Huldah to their necessities.