A Thanksgiving Dinner that Flew Away by H. Butterworth
I spun around like a top, looking nervously in every direction. I was
familiar with that sound; I had heard it before, during two summer
vacations, at the old farm-house on the Cape.
It had been a terror to me. I always put a door, a fence, or a stone
wall between me and that sound as speedily as possible.
I had just come down from the city to the Cape for my third summer
vacation. I had left the cars with my arms full of bundles, and hurried
toward Aunt Targood's.
The cottage stood in from the road. There was a long meadow in front of
it. In the meadow were two great oaks and some clusters of lilacs. An
old, mossy stone wall protected the grounds from the road, and a long
walk ran from the old wooden gate to the door.
It was a sunny day, and my heart was light. The orioles were flaming in
the old orchards; the bobolinks were tossing themselves about in the
long meadows of timothy, daisies, and patches of clover. There was a
scent of new-mown hay in the air.
In the distance lay the bay, calm and resplendent, with white sails and
specks of boats. Beyond it rose Martha's Vineyard, green and cool and
bowery, and at its wharf lay a steamer.
I was, as I said, light-hearted. I was thinking of rides over the sandy
roads at the close of the long, bright days; of excursions on the bay;
of clam-bakes and picnics.
I was hungry; and before me rose visions of Aunt Targood's fish dinners,
roast chickens, berry pies. I was thirsty; but ahead was the old
well-sweep, and, behind the cool lattice of the dairy window, were pans
of milk in abundance.
I tripped on toward the door with light feet, lugging my bundles and
beaded with perspiration, but unmindful of all discomforts in the
thought of the bright days and good things in store for me.
My heart gave a bound!
Where did that sound come from?
Out of a cool cluster of innocent-looking lilac bushes, I saw a dark
object cautiously moving. It seemed to have no head. I knew, however,
that it had a head. I had seen it; it had seized me once on the previous
summer, and I had been in terror of it during all the rest of the
I looked down into the irregular grass, and saw the head and a very long
neck running along on the ground, propelled by the dark body, like a
snake running away from a ball. It was coming toward me, and faster and
faster as it approached.
I dropped all my bundles.
In a few flying leaps I returned to the road again, and armed myself
with a stick from a pile of cord-wood.
"Honk! honk! honk!"
It was a call of triumph. The head was high in the air now. My enemy
moved grandly forward, as became the monarch of the great meadow
I stood with beating heart, after my retreat.
It was Aunt Targood's gander.
How he enjoyed his triumph, and how small and cowardly he made me feel!
"Honk! honk! honk!"
The geese came out of the lilac bushes, bowing their heads to him in
admiration. Then came the goslings—a long procession of awkward,
half-feathered things: they appeared equally delighted.
The gander seemed to be telling his admiring audience all about it: how
a strange girl with many bundles had attempted to cross the yard; how he
had driven her back, and had captured her bundles, and now was monarch
of the field. He clapped his wings when he had finished his heroic
story, and sent forth such a "honk!" as might have startled a
Then he, with an air of great dignity and coolness, began to examine my
Among my effects were several pounds of chocolate caramels, done up in
brown paper. Aunt Targood liked caramels, and I had brought her a large
He tore off the wrappers quickly. Bit one. It was good. He began to
distribute the bon-bons among the geese, and they, with much liberality
and good-will, among the goslings.
This was too much. I ventured through the gate swinging my cord-wood
He dropped his head on the ground, and drove it down the walk in a
lively waddle toward me.
It was Aunt Targood's voice at the door.
He stopped immediately.
His head was in the air again.
Out came Aunt Targood with her broom.
She always corrected the gander with her broom. If I were to be whipped
I should choose a broom—not the stick.
As soon as he beheld the broom he retired, although with much offended
pride and dignity, to the lilac bushes; and the geese and goslings
"Hester, you dear child, come here. I was expecting you, and had been
looking out for you, but missed sight of you. I had forgotten all about
We gathered up the bundles and the caramels. I was light-hearted again.
How cool was the sitting-room, with the woodbine falling about the open
windows! Aunt brought me a pitcher of milk and some strawberries; some
bread and honey; and a fan.
While I was resting and taking my lunch, I could hear the gander
discussing the affairs of the farm-yard with the geese. I did not
greatly enjoy the discussion. His tone of voice was very proud, and he
did not seem to be speaking well of me. I was suspicious that he did not
think me a very brave girl. A young person likes to be spoken well of,
even by the gander.
Aunt Targood's gander had been the terror of many well-meaning people,
and of some evildoers, for many years. I have seen tramps and
pack-peddlers enter the gate, and start on toward the door, when there
would sound that ringing warning like a war-blast. "Honk, honk!" and in
a few minutes these unwelcome people would be gone. Farm-house boarders
from the city would sometimes enter the yard, thinking to draw water by
the old well-sweep: in a few minutes it was customary to hear shrieks,
and to see women and children flying over the walls, followed by
air-rending "honks!" and jubilant cackles from the victorious gander and
his admiring family.
"Aunt, what makes you keep that gander, year after year?" said I, one
evening, as we were sitting on the lawn before the door. "Is it because
he is a kind of a watch-dog, and keeps troublesome people away?"
"No, child, no; I do not wish to keep most people away, not well-behaved
people, nor to distress nor annoy any one. The fact is, there is a
story about that gander that I do not like to speak of to every
one—something that makes me feel tender toward him; so that if he needs
a whipping, I would rather do it. He knows something that no one else
knows. I could not have him killed or sent away. You have heard me speak
of Nathaniel, my oldest boy?"
"That is his picture in my room, you know. He was a good boy to me. He
loved his mother. I loved Nathaniel—you cannot think how much I loved
Nathaniel. It was on my account that he went away.
"The farm did not produce enough for us all: Nathaniel, John, and I. We
worked hard and had a hard time. One year—that was ten years ago—we
were sued for our taxes.
"'Nathaniel,' said I, 'I will go to taking boarders.'
"Then he looked up to me and said (oh, how noble and handsome he
appeared to me!):
"'Mother, I will go to sea.'
"'Where?' asked I, in surprise.
"'In a coaster.'
"I turned white. How I felt!
"'You and John can manage the place,' he continued. 'One of the vessels
sails next week—Uncle Aaron's; he offers to take me.'
"It seemed best, and he made preparations to go.
"The spring before, Skipper Ben—you have met Skipper Ben—had given me
some goose eggs; he had brought them from Canada, and said that they
were wild-goose eggs.
"I set them under hens. In four weeks I had three goslings. I took them
into the house at first, but afterward made a pen for them out in the
yard. I brought them up myself, and one of those goslings is that
"Skipper Ben came over to see me, the day before Nathaniel was to sail.
Aaron came with him.
"I said to Aaron:
"'What can I give to Nathaniel to carry to sea with him to make him
think of home? Cake, preserves, apples? I haven't got much; I have done
all I can for him, poor boy.'
"Brother looked at me curiously, and said:
"'Give him one of those wild geese, and we will fatten it on shipboard
and will have it for our Thanksgiving dinner.'
"What brother Aaron said pleased me. The young gander was a noble bird,
the handsomest of the lot; and I resolved to keep the geese to kill for
my own use and to give him to Nathaniel.
"The next morning—it was late in September—I took leave of Nathaniel.
I tried to be calm and cheerful and hopeful. I watched him as he went
down the walk with the gander struggling under his arms. A stranger
would have laughed, but I did not feel like laughing; it was true that
the boys who went coasting were usually gone but a few months and came
home hardy and happy. But when poverty compels a mother and son to part,
after they have been true to each other, and shared their feelings in
common, it seems hard, it seems hard—though I do not like to murmur or
complain at anything allotted to me.
"I saw him go over the hill. On the top he stopped and held up the
gander. He disappeared; yes, my own Nathaniel disappeared. I think of
him now as one who disappeared.
"November came—it was a terrible month on the coast that year. Storm
followed storm; the sea-faring people talked constantly of wrecks and
losses. I could not sleep on the nights of those high winds. I used to
lie awake thinking over all the happy hours I had lived with Nathaniel.
"Thanksgiving week came.
"It was full of an Indian-summer brightness after the long storms. The
nights were frosty, bright, and calm.
"I could sleep on those calm nights.
"One morning, I thought I heard a strange sound in the woodland pasture.
It was like a wild goose. I listened; it was repeated. I was lying in
bed. I started up—I thought I had been dreaming.
"On the night before Thanksgiving I went to bed early, being very tired.
The moon was full; the air was calm and still. I was thinking of
Nathaniel, and I wondered if he would indeed have the gander for his
Thanksgiving dinner: if it would be cooked as well as I would have
cooked it, and if he would think of me that day.
"I was just going to sleep, when suddenly I heard a sound that made me
start up and hold my breath.
"I thought it was a dream followed by a nervous shock.
"There it was again, in the yard. I was surely awake and in my senses.
"I heard the geese cackle.
"'Honk! honk! honk!'
"I got out of bed and lifted the curtain. It was almost as light as day.
Instead of two geese there were three. Had one of the neighbors' geese
"I should have thought so, and should not have felt disturbed, but for
the reason that none of the neighbors' geese had that peculiar
call—that hornlike tone that I had noticed in mine.
"I went out of the door.
"The third goose looked like the very gander I had given Nathaniel.
Could it be?
"I did not sleep. I rose early and went to the crib for some corn.
"It was a gander—a 'wild' gander—that had come in the night. He seemed
to know me.
"I trembled all over as though I had seen a ghost. I was so faint that I
sat down on the meal-chest.
"As I was in that place, a bill pecked against the door. The door
opened. The strange gander came hobbling over the crib-stone and went to
the corn-bin. He stopped there, looked at me, and gave a sort of glad
"honk," as though he knew me and was glad to see me.
"I was certain that he was the gander I had raised, and that Nathaniel
had lifted into the air when he gave me his last recognition from the
top of the hill.
"It overcame me. It was Thanksgiving. The church bell would soon be
ringing as on Sunday. And here was Nathaniel's Thanksgiving dinner; and
brother Aaron's—had it flown away? Where was the vessel?
"Years have passed—ten. You know I waited and waited for my boy to come
back. December grew dark with its rainy seas; the snows fell; May
lighted up the hills, but the vessel never came back. Nathaniel—my
"That gander knows something he could tell me if he could talk. Birds
have memories. He remembered the corn-crib—he remembered something
else. I wish he could talk, poor bird! I wish he could talk. I will
never sell him, nor kill him, nor have him abused. He knows!"
Appointed by the President—usually the last Thursday in November.
Now observed as a holiday in all the States, but not a legal holiday in
all. The President's proclamation recommends that it be set apart as a
day of prayer and rejoicing. The day is of New England origin, the first
one being set by Governor Bradford of the Massachusetts colony on
December, 1621. Washington issued a thanksgiving proclamation for
Thursday, December 18, 1777, and again at Valley Forge for May 7, 1778.
The Thanksgiving of the present incorporates many of the genial features
of Christmas. The feast with the Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin-pie
crowns the day. Even the poorhouse has its turkey. The story of "An
Old-Time Thanksgiving," in "Indian Stories" of this series, well brings
out the original spirit of the day.