From Woman's Home Companion Vol. XXXIII No. 11 (November, 1906)
The evening before Thanksgiving Hannah Dodd sat in the moonlight beside her kitchen window. It was very late; her four children were in bed, the two younger ones in a room opening out of the kitchen, and heated by its stove, the two older up-stairs in a room whose window-panes were coated with frost.
It was a very cold night. Winter had set in early that year. That had gone a long way toward bringing about Hannah's state of mind. In the midst of New England, having been nurtured at her stony but faithful breast, having been a member of the Congregational church ever since she was a girl in her teens, having been a constant attendant at that church, and bringing up her children to do likewise, having stinted herself of the necessaries of life to pay her pew-rent and drop her pennies for home and foreign missions into the contribution-box, having endured in faith and love through sore hardships and bereavements, she now, at this period of her life, had become in heart and mind as relentless an anarchist as any in Russia. Her very soul rose up against the existing condition of things. It kicked ruthlessly, although to its own undoing, against the pricks. There was to the woman's fierce heart, made fierce by the sense of unmerited injury and deprivation at the hands of Providence, a certain satisfaction even in the misery which her unwonted and utterly futile rebellion brought her.
Hannah Dodd was a tall, angular creature, wide-shouldered and flat-chested, with enormous muscular strength for a woman. She had performed tasks at which many men would have shrunk. She had not been a woman born to be fondled and cherished. That which she might have expected as her due from others had been exacted from her by others. Her husband, who had died before her last child was born, had been a helpless, childlike little man. Hannah had been from the first as much a mother as a wife to him. He had been in delicate health, and also lacking in energy. Hannah had supported him and taken care of him. She had never dreamed of complaining. She had accepted her lot in life as a warrior of old accepted his sword. It had seemed to her quite right and fitting that she should work and fight, although she was a woman. She had what amounted to a sense of honor as to her duty, but now she had turned her sword against circumstances, against that grim and cruel abstraction which to her represented Providence, possibly God. But it was all for the sake of her children, not for her own sake.
Hannah Dodd valued herself at once so humbly and so highly, that never, had she been alone in the world, could she have come into this state. But she could wrestle with angels and principalities with all sense of reverence, and cast duty to the winds for the sake of those whom she loved. And she loved her children with her whole soul and her whole flesh. The oldest was only ten, the youngest five. They were all girls, and not like their mother, but resembling their father. They were all small-framed, pretty, delicate little things, helpless and at the mercy of the world, except for her. And now, through no fault of her own, she had failed them. It was a homely thing which had caused this state of desperation, but a chip can precipitate tragedy. It was only because, for the first time, she was unable to provide her children with a Thanksgiving dinner. Somehow Thanksgiving in New England without its appropriate dinner seems a sacreligious occasion. Hannah felt as if Providence had fairly forced her into desecration. She felt angry and actually guilty because in her pantry there was absolutely nothing which could serve by any stretch of imagination for a Thanksgiving dinner the next day.
She had not contemplated a turkey. There had never been turkeys Thanksgivings, except on two occasions when she had worked for a farmer who raised them, and had taken her pay in them at a reduced rate. There had been chickens, and if not chickens, roasts of pork. This year she could not buy even a roast of pork. She could not buy even vegetables. There had been a drought the summer before. She had always had plenty of winter vegetables from her own garden patch, but this year all her hard labor, her plowing and hoeing and weeding had come to naught. She had not been able even to bring about a plum-pudding for Thanksgiving, for her chickens had refused to lay for the last few weeks, and as for mince pies, and apple pies, she might as well have attempted terrapin. It had been an off year for apples, and some boys belonging to the new family who had moved in next door had stolen the few which had been on her trees. There were in her pantry for Thanksgiving dainties, absolutely nothing except a little corn-meal, half a can of molasses and two thirds of a dried codfish. “Dry salt fish for Thanksgiving dinner!” said Hannah Dodd, and her tone was as if she cursed. Then she added in a terrible undertone, “Those MacFarlands!”
It was possibly the MacFarlands who had precipitated this crisis in her mental attitude. All that day she had been at work at the great MacFarland house preparing for the MacFarland Thanksgiving. The MacFarlands were a wealthy family who lived in New York, but had originally hailed from this little New England village, and still owned the old homestead there. It was known as the “Squire MacFarland house,” and was a fine specimen of old Colonial architecture, about half a mile up the street from Hannah Dodd's. The MacFarlands owned a country-place at the seashore, and another at the mountains, and seldom came to the old homestead, but this year they had taken a fancy to come there for an old-fashioned New England Thanksgiving, to have the ancient brick oven heated, and roast the turkeys and fowls as of old over the open fire. It seemed to them it would be a great frolic.
So they were all coming; Mr. George S. MacFarland and his wife, Mr. Silas MacFarland and Grandmother MacFarland, Mr. George MacFarland's daughter Alice, and the gentleman whom she was to marry, and a younger daughter, and the son, who had just entered Yale. It was to be strictly a family party in the old homestead. They had sent word to the old woman who took care of the house to get necessary help, and make ready for them. They were to take the night train from New York, and come over in the stage from the nearest railroad station the next morning. The old woman who lived in the homestead and cared for it was a very distant relative of the MacFarlands, and very old indeed, so old that many considered that she should not live by herself. Her name was Maria Gore.
Mrs. Maria Gore had been married, but her husband had died when she was still young, and people in the village said she was a born old maid, if she was a widow. Some even suspected that her late husband was a fiction. Mrs. Maria Gore had the name of setting forth family affairs in the best light possible. Some declared that she had been born a Gore. However, there was no way of proving it, as she had come from the West, and people did not even know how she was related to the MacFarlands, only she declared that she was related and made the most of it. Mrs. Gore never spoke to anyone even about the weather without finding a pretext for bringing in the MacFarlands. They seemed to be a sort of natural sequence to all trains of thought. She always brought up at the terminus with the great and rich family to which she belonged. Hannah Dodd had never liked Maria Gore, and when she sent for her by little Tommy Simmons, the red-headed boy next door, whom she suspected of stealing most of her apples, to come to the Squire MacFarland house to see her about some business, she involuntarily scowled. “What does she want, do you know?” She had inquired of Tommy standing grinning, a peculiar impish grin, in the kitchen door. “Dunno,” replied Tommy.
“Didn't she say?”
“Didn't say nothin'. Jest said for you to come an' see her on business.”
“Well!” Hannah had said, and shut the door in the grinning little red-headed boy's face.
The next morning she had obeyed her summons, she had not dared do otherwise, for she was dependent upon her neighbors for her little income. She did almost anything in the way of odd jobs, and she had now a view toward earning something for Thanksgiving.
Exactly in what way it concerned this little inland village it would have been hard to say, inasmuch as not a soul living there owned any securities of any kind, except old Joel Hammond, who had a trunk full of worthless mining-stock certificates, bought in his reckless youth, but as there was a small financial panic in the stock market everybody in Ellistown felt somehow poor in consequence. It must have been entirely sympathetic, there could have been no valid reason for it, but the village felt that it must be very prudent that year on account of the panic, and therefore the women who had been in the habit of hiring Hannah Dodd to do extra work for them did it themselves. Hannah Dodd consequently found herself on the verge of absolute want. Possibly, if this state of things continued, she and her children might starve if they did not ask aid of the town. That last was a nightmare to her. It was odd that Wall Street should affect Hannah Dodd, but a pebble cast into the financial element creates enormous circles. Certain it was that poor Hannah Dodd, in her little New England village, who had never owned a share of any kind of stock in her life, who had scarcely ever heard of stocks, was pitifully affected by the liquidation in Wall Street.
However, she did not know that. She went back to first principles and accused Providence itself, with no intermediaries of great capitalists or ruling powers. She had been hearing this state of revolt before she obeyed the summons of Tommy Simmons and went up the street to see Mrs. Maria Gore. As she approached the stately old mansion, she saw the old woman's face at a window. Immediately she heard the soft patter of footsteps, then the key was turned, a bolt was shot, a chain was unhooked, and Mrs. Gore bade Hannah enter.
She followed Mrs. Gore into the south room. It was filled with superb old mahogany furniture. There was a faded Turkey carpet, and some portraits on the walls. Old Squire MacFarland looked as haughtily out of his gilt frame as a king, although he was long since dust in the MacFarland tomb, and his wife smirked over a marvelously painted lace collar which finished her black satin robe. There was also a Webster Deathbed Scene, a fine engraving, over the mantel-shelf. The eyes of old Squire MacFarland and his wife seemed to fasten themselves with proud inquiry upon Hannah Dodd as she entered the room.
“Sit down,” said Mrs. Gore, and Hannah seated herself stiffly upon the very edge of an old-fashioned chair with a magnificent carved back, at which she glanced warily from time to time.
Then Mrs. Maria Gore began to talk. She was a very small old lady in an ancient black silk with many highlights of gloss. She wore a large brooch and a coil of fair hair set in a circle of pearls. Mrs. Maria Gore, in spite of her age and small size, gave an impression of force, and a sort of malicious power. Her black eyes between her two folds of false fronts gleamed as sharply as a cat's. Her mouth was small with a curious grim twist. Deep ruffles of lace fell over her tiny yellow claw-like hands which clutched each other nervously. There was no repose about Mrs. Maria Gore, but there was restrained intensity which might be mistaken for repose. In all her life Maria had never screamed, but she would have liked to scream. Her one safety valve was her scolding tongue. That relieved her constant strain of spirit. When she had no one present upon whom to let loose this vituperating lash, she scolded in solitude, as if at some unseen opponent of fate. Where Hannah Dodd kept still and revolted, Maria Gore expressed her state of mind to the utmost. She expressed it that morning to the tall thin woman sitting opposite with her grim, defiant face.
“Here they are, all coming,” declared Mrs. Gore, scowling her old face and twisting her mouth malignantly. “Every one of them; all the MacFarlands and that young man Alice is engaged to, and they say he's a millionaire. They have taken a notion to spend Thanksgiving here, and have things cooked in the old brick oven, and have the kitchen range taken down, and the fireplace opened, and the turkeys, and chickens roasted on spits, the old-fashioned way; and here it is Tuesday, and only two days to do it all in. The letter only came last night, and I sent Tommy Simmons right off to you. They wrote me to get help. They took a sudden fancy, Mrs. George S. MacFarland says, and here are only two days to get ready for them. ‘Heat the brick oven,’ says Mrs. George S. MacFarland. How do I know if that oven will draw? It hasn't been used for forty years. Well, Mrs. Dodd, you've got to go to work. I suppose you came prepared to work?”
“Yes, I calculated you wanted me to work,” said Hannah, stiffly. She had her apron in a bundle. She never walked in the street with her apron on. She had a certain vanity in spite of humble estate.
“Well put your apron on and get to work,” said Mrs. Maria Gore. “You'll have to step pretty fast, for there's no end to be done. I heard Mrs. Bemis wasn't having you as she usually does Thanksgiving, so I thought I could get you.”
“No, Mrs. Bemis didn't want me this Thanksgiving,” said Hannah.
“Suppose she's pinching, like everybody else,” said Mrs. Gore. “I don't see what has got into folks here for my part. I don't see why Charles Augustus Bemis is any poorer this year than he ever was. I heard he'd been making money on his hens, been selling eggs for fifty cents a dozen. Well, if folks want to pinch and save and work their fingers to the bone for the sake of leaving it to some far-off relations (they haven't a near one to my knowledge) they can. It isn't much like George S. MacFarland. He's free enough with his money. It takes folks that haven't had so much to be so mighty mean with it. You get right to work, Mrs. Dodd. I know Mr. MacFarland will be willing to pay you well — as much as a dollar a day, if you do all right.”
Hannah had tied on her apron and stood up, like some gaunt slave of labor, who obeyed it and yet faced it, and asked what she should do first.
“I guess you'd better go and see that the bedrooms are opened, and the beds and things aired first,” said Mrs. Gore, “or they'll catch their deaths of cold, and blame me. Shouldn't wonder if they all got cold anyhow. Here they are coming from a steam-heated house. Mr. George S. had a hot-air furnace put in here last year on my account, so they won't have to depend on open fireplaces, but if the wind is northeast the dratted thing won't send a mite of heat anywhere but up chimney. I guess they don't know what they're coming to, but then folks like them don't stop to count consequences. They've always had things just the way they wanted them, and they can't imagine anything else. I suppose they'll be so astonished they won't know what to do if the wind blows from the northeast, and don't pay any attention to their being here. But that's the way with such folks.”
Mrs. Maria Gore had said that last with malignity and pride, which made a curious combination, and Hannah Dodd had gone immediately to work. There was an enormous amount of work to do. Mrs. Maria Gore was unaccountably parsimonious with the money of the wealthy George S. MacFarland, and resented a hint that more help was needed, and Hannah worked for her life. All the great ancient bedrooms had to be aired and put in order, and that was no small task, for Mrs. Maria Gore was but an indifferent housekeeper, and only troubled herself about her own particular comforts. A man came in twice a day to care for the kitchen range and the furnace, and she lived comfortably in the midst of dust, while she was warm, and had her own little dainties for meals. She cooked her meals, and that was about all Mrs. Maria did. As for her own bedroom, she had a nest in the midst of her deep feather-bed, which she did not disturb for months. She did not help Hannah Dodd in the least. She sat beside her window in the south room and read or gazed out upon the street while Hannah worked. She only roused herself to scold Hannah, or relate in a rasping voice, like an angry crow, her list of complaints against life in general. Hannah used to hear her while she was working, and she wondered at her. She thought to herself that if she had such a soft nest in life she would be quiet. She felt like marching in and speaking her mind to Mrs. Maria Gore in spite of her black silk and her brooch set in pearls, but she was mindful of her dollar a day with which she could buy a Thanksgiving dinner for her children, and she restrained herself.
It is possible that her resentment against the old woman acted as a sort of poisonous stimulant, for she worked as she had never worked before. It was an almost hurculean task which had been set her. All that great dust-laden untidy house was to be in order, and all the Thanksgiving cooking was to be done in two days. Then Mrs. Gore's prophecy with regard to the brick oven proved a true one. It did not draw. It set fire to some woodwork around it, and the village fire department had to be called in, and a mason. When that happened Hannah set her mouth hard, and she marched upon Mrs. Maria Gore. That was Wednesday morning. “Now look here, Mrs. Gore,” said she, “I'm willin' to do all I can, but I ain't willin' to do what I can't, and you may jest as well know it.”
“What do you mean?” inquired Mrs. Gore, snapping her black eyes at her.
“As for trying to cook pies and puddin's and bread and cake in that old oven, that Mr. Slocum will need half the day to get in order, I won't. But I'll cook them in the stove oven, and if you want to tell them MacFarlands they wasn't cooked in the brick oven you can.”
Mrs. Gore stared at her. She looked helpless, which was a strange look for her.
“I'll get them pies and cakes baked to-day, though I shall have to sit up till midnight to do it,” said Hannah, “and I'll get them turkeys and chickens dressed, and then I'll take down the range and get the hearth cleaned and them silly old cranes and pothooks and things ready to roast and broil to-morrow, but I won't undertake to bake in that brick oven and git things done, because an angel from Heaven can't do what he can't do, and I can't.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Maria Gore.
“I'll get the brick oven het up after Mr. Slocum gits it fixed,” said Hannah, “and then an injun puddin' can be baked in it, and you can do jest as you are a-mind to about tellin' them that the other things were baked in the stove oven. I should tell if I was in your place. I don't believe in tellin' lies anyhow and especially about such little things as victuals. But you can do jest as you think best. It's your lie, it ain't mine. It ain't likely they'll ask me if all the things were baked in that crazy old brick oven, and if they do I shall jest tell them to ask you.”
“It isn't very likely they'll ask me,” returned Mrs. Maria Gore reflectively. “If Mr. George S. MacFarland or any of his folks tell people to do a thing, they don't dream they won't do it.”
“Well, I guess they get left a good many times then,” remarked Hannah Dodd rebelliously and slangily.
“You don't know anything about such folks as Mr. George S. MacFarland and his family, you couldn't,” said Maria Gore, with majesty.
“Well I don't want to!” replied Hannah. “All I want is to bake the things in the stove oven where I can bake them, and not in that old brick oven where I can't.”
“Well,” said Maria Gore, and Hannah returned to her field of action. It was a hard-fought one, although it was in a kitchen and the weapons in use were domestic utensils generally considered to be peaceful. It was, as she had prophesied, midnight before she had finished, before the last of the chicken pies and the other pies were baked and set on the pantry shelves, before the cakes were baked and iced, the poultry dressed, the brick oven heated and the Indian pudding set therein, before she had moved, with her fairly masculine strength, the kitchen range into the wood-shed, cleaned the hearth, and set it forth with its ancient array of crane, pothooks and the rest. Then Hannah washed her hands, took off her apron, and marched in upon Mrs. Maria Gore, who was soundly asleep in her stuffy little bedroom out of the sitting-room. Hannah aroused her with no compunction, and the old woman's black eyes opened upon her viciously from under the flapping ruff of her nightcap.
“Well, I'm through for to-night,” said Hannah Dodd.
“Then why didn't you go home and lock the back door and take the key, so you can get in early in the morning, and go still, and not wake me up this time of night!” demanded Maria Gore.
“I waked you up because I wanted my pay for these two days' work,” said Hannah Dodd. “I kept thinkin' you would say something about it before you went to bed, I didn't want to dun. Then the first thing I knew you had gone to bed at half-past seven, and I heard you snore, and I thought I might jest as well wait till I was through and wake you up then.”
“I never snored in my whole life,” declared Maria Gore, “and I haven't been asleep more than fifteen minutes.”
“Well, I don't mind whether you think you snore or not,” replied Hannah Dodd, “but I want that two dollars.”
“You haven't finished your work here,” said Maria Gore. “I never pay folks until their work is done, and I know Mr. George S. MacFarland wouldn't approve of it.”
“I don't care whether he would or not,” replied Hannah, facing her fiercely. “I've got to have that two dollars, Mis' Gore. I've bought a roast of pork and some vegetables and raisins and crackers for a puddin' for my children's Thanksgivin' dinner. I told the butcher and Mr. Rogers that I would leave the money for the things with Liza, and she would bring it to them to-morrow mornin'. I wouldn't ask them to trust me any other way, and I've got to have that two dollars.”
“It's a likely story I'll give you that two dollars, and then you won't show your face here to-morrow,” snarled the old woman. Her face sunken in the depths of her great feather pillow looked cunning, and fairly malignant.
“I ain't that kind of a woman,” returned Hannah indignantly. “I said I'd come, and I'll come. I've got to get up before daylight and get my own dinner ready so Liza can cook it, but I'll come. But I want that two dollars.”
For answer Maria Gore turned in her bed, and presented a small mound of back to Hannah Dodd, and said not another word. She was too much for even the indomitable determination of the other woman. She opposed to it the greatest force in the world, that of utter negation and unresponsive silence.
Finally poor Hannah Dodd went home without her two dollars. As she walked down the dark silent street of the village between the locked houses, which seemed themselves to be asleep, and in some far-off country, she was fairly tragic in her mood. She unlocked the door of her house and stole in cautiously, lest she should wake the children. Then, as before said, she sat beside the kitchen window, and looked out at the moonlit street. Early in the season as it was, there was a rime of hard-frozen snow on the ground. The moon gave out a cold green light. Hannah felt oppressed by a numbing chill of existence itself. She did not go to bed that night. She sat thinking her revolutionary thoughts. It was before daylight when she stood over her eldest daughter's bed with a lamp. “I've got to go to the MacFarland house now,” she whispered, shaking Eliza's little shoulder tenderly. Eliza opened her pretty blue eyes and stared at her sleepily.
“Now,” said Hannah, “I've got something to tell you, and you mustn't make a fuss about it, and you must tell the other children not to make a fuss. There's worse things in life than this, and if you all don't have to face them you'll do well. You had better get up by seven, and make some injun-meal mush for breakfast, there's enough molasses to eat with it, and you'll have a good breakfast. Then you and Elsie must take that roast of pork, I've got it all done up nice, back to Mr. Brooks. His shop won't be open, so you must go to his house. You can jest say to him that mother decided not to take it. Then you must take the vegetables and raisins and other things back to Mr. Rogers, and say jest the same to him.”
Tears gathered in little Eliza's blue eyes. She gave a soft whimper, but her mother silenced her. “Don't you make a fuss,” said she. “There are worse things. You can have that nice codfish for dinner. Pour boiling water over it three times, and turn it off, then there's a little butter you can put on it and some pepper, and you'll have a dinner good enough for anybody. I guess if you knew how many poor folks didn't have half as much you'd be thankful.”
But poor Eliza sobbed faintly in spite of herself. She was hungry.
“Cry baby!” said her mother in a violent whisper. Then she bent over, tucked in the clothes and kissed her fondly. “Now go to sleep again,” said she, “and do what I have told you, and don't you make a fuss yourself or let the other children make a fuss, or the time will come when you won't have anything half as good as codfish to eat.”
Then Hannah Dodd retraced her steps to the MacFarland house and resumed her labor. Such was the splendid strength of the woman that had it not been for her injured and rebellious heart she would have realized little fatigue in spite of her sleepless night and the arduous tasks which had preceded it. The great MacFarlands were expected at ten, and they were to have breakfast according to the family traditions, chicken pie, and all the other kinds of pies.
“They never had pie for breakfast in their lives,” Maria Gore told Hannah. “They don't think it is stylish to have anything except eggs and rolls and coffee, and now they feel as if they were going to turn somersaults, having pie. They are thinking it's a great joke, and you'll see the way they'll eat the pie.”
“Them pies are good if I do say it,” replied Hannah grimly, “and I guess it won't hurt them if they ain't stylish ones.”
“You don't know anything about such rich folks,” said Maria Gore, going out of the kitchen with a swish of her black silk skirts.
“Don't want to neither,” retorted Hannah, but Maria did not hear her.
The MacFarlands arrived at half-past nine, and presently there was an irruption of all of them into the kitchen. They spoke to Hannah pleasantly, they exclaimed and praised, but she took it all grimly. “She's a perfect dragon of a woman,” she heard pretty Alice MacFarland remark as they went out.
Hannah Dodd did not know what that meant, but she judged it to be not complimentary, and she closed her mouth more tightly as she worked. She was carefully taking from the brick oven the mammoth chicken pie which had really been baked in the range the day before, and was merely warmed in the brick oven. The MacFarlands had opened the door of the brick oven and exclaimed with delight and Hannah had felt guilty, but she said nothing.
When she had the long table in the dining-room set, and all the pies thereon, she opened the door of the sitting-room a little way, and called in a harsh voice, “Mrs. Gore, breakfast's ready.”
Then she was back in the kitchen with long strides. She had been in terror lest she might be required to wait upon the table, but Mrs. Maria Gore had told her that it was the fancy of the MacFarlands to wait upon themselves. “They want to do everything just the way their great-grandfather used to,” said she.
Hannah heard the jubilant rush to the dining-room, and the gay chatter and laughter as the MacFarlands fell upon the pies. She went about preparing dinner. There was much to do. There were vegetables to boil in the pots swung upon the crane, and turkeys and chickens, and a sucking pig to roast before the fire. If Hannah had not been a good Christian she would have waxed profane. Possibly she did in her inmost soul. “When folks found out better ways of doin' things, the idea of goin' back to the old ones that ain't half so good,” she muttered. She heard once quite distinctly Miss Alice in the dining-room say how much better a chicken pie baked in a brick oven did taste, and her lips curled sardonically.
Hannah toiled and toiled. After breakfast she had the dishes to wash, then the table to set out grandly for dinner with the fine old MacFarland damask, and the old MacFarland silver, which had been brought from the safe-deposit vaults, and the old Canton china. Dinner was to be at four o'clock. At quarter before everything was in readiness. Hannah heard voices exclaiming how good the dinner smelled. Mrs. Maria Gore came to the kitchen door, arrayed in her best black silk and a fine cap with lavender bows. She looked through her gold-bowed spectacles at Hannah, and they glittered red in the light from the hearth fire. “Is dinner about ready?” she inquired sharply. “They are asking.”
“It's all ready to dish up,” replied Hannah.
“Well, dish up,” said Maria Gore. “The MacFarlands never like to wait.” She retreated, her black silk trailing and flouncing with loud whispers. Hannah began to “dish up.” Her face was tragic. She was thinking with intensity of love and pain of her poor children at home, with nothing except codfish for their Thanksgiving dinner. Suddenly great wrath and sense of injustice burst into flame in the woman's stern New England heart. She was a true descendant of the old Puritans. She broke into open revolt against existing conditions. She stood for one minute in the kitchen, not hesitating, but stunned, as it were, by her own purpose. Then Hannah Dodd let herself go. Hereditary instincts dragged her like wild horses. Her conviction of injury and injustice, her revolt against oppression became terrible powers against which she was helpless.
She made two strides into the wood-shed. She returned with a great clothes-basket. Then she bundled carefully into it the MacFarlands' Thanksgiving dinner. She had a great respect for this stupendous dinner even in her rebellion. She stowed away everything carefully and daintily in the pots in which the cooking had been done. The enormous turkey crowned the whole, his brown and unctous drumsticks protruding. Then without stopping for her hat, merely flinging her old cape over her shoulders, out of the back door she plunged, a New England anarchist, not armed with a bomb for her oppressors' destruction, but having a spiritual might compared with which a bomb would have been a toy. She was bearing away what they were craving, she was adjusting forcibly the scales of justice awry. She was ridiculous, she was homely, she was terrible.
When Hannah was about half-way home, she met an old man with his young grandson who was escorting him home to Thanksgiving at his mother's. Both stopped and eyed Hannah amazedly. Hannah knew them quite well. Finally the old man spoke in a hoarse voice. “What hev you got in that clothes-basket, Hannah Dodd?”
“None of your business,” retorted Hannah, and strode on, leaving them staring after her.
She heard the old man remark, “Somebody has give her a Thanksgivin' dinner, sonny,” and she laughed.
Down the frozen road went Hannah Dodd, never wavering, carrying the heavy basket, until she reached her own house. Her four little girls opened the door and stood staring. Then suddenly their pinched little faces lit up with joy. They thought that this bountiful store had been given to their mother by those rich and great MacFarlands. They rushed down the steps, and danced about her. She motioned them away with a shake of her head covered with wind-blown hair.
“You jest keep off,” said she. “This ain't for you, not a mite of it. You needn't think it is.” The children's faces fell. The two younger ones began to cry. “Stop that bawling,” cried Hannah sternly, “and go and open the shed door. I want to take this truck in there.”
When the shed door was opened and Hannah entered there were the children huddled together, shivering with the cold, and staring at her with scared, wondering faces.
“Oh, mother,” began Eliza, the oldest.
“Oh mother, what?” asked Hannah setting the basket down carefully.
“Who is it all for?”
“Providence,” replied Hannah, with an awful grimness. The children continued to stare with round, innocent, frightened eyes. “There ain't one thing in this basket for you, and you needn't think there is,” said Hannah. “Have you had your dinner?”
“We were waiting till you got home,” replied little Eliza meekly.
“Well, go into the house,” said Hannah, “and we'll have dinner, and I can tell you one thing; you can be mighty thankful you've got as much as you have. Some children don't have anything.”
It was half an hour later, and Hannah and the children were still seated at the table. They had finished the scanty mess of codfish and were eating a hasty pudding which Hannah had made from corn-meal, when there came a knock at the door.
Hannah motioned the children to remain where they were, then she unlatched the door which led directly into the open. She was very white, but unflinching. There stood Mr. George S. MacFarland, handsome and opulent in his sable-lined overcoat. He looked at Hannah and she looked at him. In his look was bewilderment and some indignation; in hers was the defiance of the poor and heavy-laden of the earth who at last arise.
Mr. George S. MacFarland was the first to speak. “You are the woman who has been working at my house, aren't you?” he asked.
“Yes, I be,” replied Hannah. She looked at him with the utmost pride and defiance, as one who was fairly crowned with and throned on the Right. The country woman in her shabby attire, with her background of poor home and half-starved children was pitted against the rich man, who had the might of gold which prevails in the land, and who, never in his whole life, had known the want of anything which gold could buy, and who had moreover been generously dealt with by nature. George S. MacFarland was a handsome, popular man, whom everybody liked, even loved. His family had disappointed him in no fashion, everything had gone his way.
“What has become of our Thanksgiving dinner?” asked George S. MacFarland. He tried to speak sternly, but he could not to that poor tragic woman with those little frightened faces at her back.
“It is out in my wood-shed in your clothes-basket,” replied Hannah Dodd.
“In your clothes-basket.”
George S. MacFarland had never known that he owned a clothes-basket. His mouth twitched a little, then he cast a glance at the dinner-table in the kitchen.
“You can look,” said Hannah, “but you won't see no turkey bones. We had codfish for dinner, and now we're topping off with hasty puddin'. We ain't eatin' none of your dinner.”
A horrified look came over the man's face. “Are you crazy?” he asked.
“No, I ain't crazy, and I reckon I never shall be,” replied Hannah Dodd. “I'm jest lookin' at things square, and I see that some folks have got everything and some have got nothin' and I'm only one, but I'm going to set things right as far as I can. Here Mrs. Maria Gore wouldn't pay me my two dollars last night, because I hadn't got all the work done, and here are my children 'most starved, with hardly enough codfish to go round for a Thanksgivin' dinner, and here are you rich MacFarlands with all that turkey an' fixin's when you've already et about all you ought to for one day for breakfast.”
Mr. George S. MacFarland stared at Hannah Dodd in a puzzled, interested way. Now he did not look at all angry. Indeed his blue eyes twinkled pleasantly.
“But Mrs. Dodd,” he said, “I don't see exactly how you are righting things if you and your children don't have any of our Thanksgiving dinner. You say you won't let them have any.”
“I'd see them starve first,” said Hannah.
“Then who has the dinner, anyhow?”
“Providence,” replied Hannah Dodd. “It's Providence that gives dinners, and everything else, and Providence don't mean things to be so uneven. I'm for givin' back things to the one that gave 'em, and let 'em be divided over again. If you rich MacFarlands have grabbed, it's no reason why I should, or why my children should.”
“You don't call it stealing then?”
“Stealing is taking something for yourself, or them that belongs to you,” replied Hannah promptly. “I ain't stole.”
“You have only put my Thanksgiving dinner on the scales of Justice,” said George S. MacFarland. Then a most gentle and winning expression overspread the rich man's face. “I can tell you what is the best thing to do,” said he.
“What?” asked Hannah suspiciously.
“You take hold of one handle of that basket, and I will take hold of the other, and you and your children come home with me, and we'll all have Thanksgiving dinner together.”
Hannah still surveyed him with suspicious incredulous eyes. “You don't mean a word of it.”
“Yes, I do. Tell that pretty little eldest girl of your's to hustle herself and the children into the warmest things they've got, and we'll start.”
It was almost dark when Hannah and George S. MacFarland, bearing the clothes-basket between them, went up the street, with the children marching behind. The windows of the houses were filled with wondering faces. People did not know what it meant. They never knew, for Hannah Dodd kept her own counsel, and taught her children to do likewise, and so did the MacFarlands. When they arrived at the MacFarland house, Mr. George S. MacFarland bade Hannah and the children remain in the kitchen, and take the things from the basket and heat them, and he would be back soon. Hannah and the children worked fast. They heard exclamations and loud laughs from the other rooms, but could not distinguish anything that was said. Finally Mrs. George S. MacFarland and her daughter Alice came out in the kitchen, and both were smiling.
“We are so glad you and the children are coming to dinner,” they said. Then they kissed the children, and Miss Alice took the youngest, little Abby, who snuggled close to her, back into the south room.
The fire was good, and it was not long before dinner was on the table. Hannah Dodd sat at Mr. George S. MacFarland's right hand. She felt shy, but she had the native dignity and self-respect of New England. Mrs. Maria Gore glowered at first, then she said when a plate was passed to the youngest girl, hardly more than a baby, “She hasn't any jelly.”
Alice MacFarland, at whose side the child sat, immediately gave her some. “So she shall have jelly,” she said, in her sweet caressing young voice. Hannah Dodd looked at her. Then she spoke, with a great rigid tremor of truthfulness.
“I heard you say how much nicer that chicken pie was because it was baked in the brick oven,” said she.
“Yes, it was,” replied, the girl laughing.
“Well, it wasn't baked in no brick oven. The oven was out of kilter, and it was baked in the stove oven, and jest warmed up in the brick oven.”
“Well, it was delicious, anyway.”
“I didn't want to tell any lies about it, that's all,” said Hannah. A quiver of restrained mirth ran around the table, but the MacFarlands were too polite, and also too kind to laugh.
Hannah ate her dinner in a sort of daze. Her little individual strike against the inequality of possessions of the rich and poor had ended, and she could not for the life of her tell who had capitulated. She looked at her children eating their fill of the rich Thanksgiving food of their ancestors, but she could not tell whether the rich MacFarlands were dividing with her, or she with them.
It seemed to her that she was on a pinnacle of thanksgiving for the present. She scarcely, for a moment, remembered the past, and she certainly had no prevision of the future, in which she was to live with her children in the old MacFarland house, she taking the place of Mrs. Maria Gore as caretaker, while Maria was pensioned and sent West to live with a niece. She watched her children eat, and she ate also, but as for herself, she realized no savor except that of a universal love and kindness which she had not thought existed, and an enormous thankfulness to God, and a comradeship with all who partook of his bounty.
p. 10 changed [ “I'll get the brick oven het up after Mr. Slocum gits it fixed,” said Hannah, and then an injun puddin' can be baked in it, and you can do jest as you are a-mind to about tellin' them that the other things were baked in the stove oven. ] to [ gits it fixed,” said Hannah, “and then ]
p. 50 changed [ “You don't know anything about such rich folks,” said Maria Gore, going out of the kitchen with a swish of her black silk skirts.” ] to [ going out of the kitchen with a swish of her black silk skirts. ]