AN OLD-TIME THANKSGIVING
LITTLE PRUDENCE stood by the window,
with her face pressed hard against it. She
was not looking out; she could not do that, for the
window-frame, instead of being filled with clear
panes of glass, had oiled paper stretched tightly
It was a very curious window, indeed, and it
transmitted a dull light into a very curious room.
The floor was of uncovered boards; the walls
were built of logs of wood with the bark still
clinging to them in places, and overhead were
great rafters from which hung suspended many
things—swords and corselets, coats, bundles of
dried herbs, pots and pans.
The furniture was very simple. In the center
of the room was a wooden table, scoured to whiteness,
stiff-backed chairs were ranged against the
wall, and a dresser, where pewter cups and platters
stood in shining rows, adorned the farther
corner. In a wide chimney-place a royal fire was
blazing, and before it stood Prudence's mother,
carefully stirring some mixture in an iron pot
which hung upon a crane. Within the circle of
the firelight, which played upon her yellow hair
and turned it to ruddy gold, Mehitable, Prudence's
sister, stepped rapidly to and fro, her spinning-wheel
making a humming accompaniment to
the crackling of the blaze.
Prudence turned to watch her, pushing farther
back a little white cap which pressed upon her
short curls; for she was a little Puritan maiden,
living in the town of Plymouth, and it was not the
present year of our Lord, but about two hundred
and eighty-four years ago. She was a very different
Prudence from what she would have been
if she had been living now, and it was a very different
Plymouth from the pleasant town we know
to-day, with its many houses climbing up the hill,
and the busy people in its streets. There were
only seven houses then, and they stood in one line
leading to the water, and there was but one building
besides—a square wooden affair with palisades,
which served as a church on Sundays, a
fort when enemies were feared, and a storehouse
all the time. Beyond these nothing could be seen
but woods—trackless, unknown forests—and,
away to the east, the ocean, where the waves were
booming with a lonesome sound.
It was not quite a year before that Prudence's
father had stood with the other brave colonists
on the deck of the Mayflower, and had looked with
eager eyes upon the shore of the New World. This
first year in Massachusetts had on the whole been
a happy one for Prudence. During the cold winter
which followed their landing, she had indeed
cast longing thoughts toward the home in Holland
which they had left; and especially did she
long for the Dutch home when she was hungry,
and the provisions which had been brought on
the ship were scanty; but she had forgotten all
such longings in the bounty given by the summer,
and now it seemed to her there was no more beautiful
place in the world than this New England.
It was Prudence's father who opened the door
and came in, carrying on his shoulder an ax with
which he had been felling trees for the winter's
fuel. Prudence never could get over the queer
feeling it gave her to see her father thus employed.
When they lived in Holland, he was always
writing and studying in books of many
languages, but here he did little else than work in
the fields, for it was only so that the early settlers
obtained their daily bread. He leaned his ax in a
corner, and came toward the fire, rubbing his
hands to get out the cold.
"I have news for you, dear heart, to-night," he
said to his wife. "I have just come from the
granary, and indeed there is goodly store laid up
of corn and rye, and game that has been shot in
the forest. The children's mouths will not hunger
"Praised be the Lord!" replied his wife, fervently.
"But what is your news?"
"The governor hath decided to hold a thanksgiving
for the bountiful harvest, and on the appointed
day is a great feast to be spread; and he
hath sent a messenger to bid Massasoit to break
bread with us."
"Massasoit the Indian?"
"Ay; but a friendly Indian. He will come, and
many of his braves with him. You will be kept
busy, my heart, with the other housewives to bake
sufficient food for this company."
"Oh, mother, may I go?" cried Prudence,
her eyes dancing with excitement, clutching at
her mother's skirts; but her father continued:
"How now, Mehitable? The news of a coming
feast does not seem to make you merry as it was
wont to do in Holland."
Mehitable was grave, and there was even a tear
in her eye.
"I know," cried Joel, who was two years older
than Prudence; "she is thinking of John Andrews,
who is across the sea."
But the father frowned, and the mother said,
"Peace, foolish children!" as she placed the porridge
on the table.
So Prudence and Joel drew up their benches,
and said no more. Chairs and conversation did
not belong to children in those days; they sat on
little stools and kept silence. That did not keep
them from thinking. A thanksgiving feast!
What could it be? The only thanksgiving they
knew about meant such long prayers in church
that the little people grew very tired before the
end—but a feast!—that would be something new
The feast was to be held on the following
Thursday; so, during all the days between, the
house was full of the stir of brewing and baking.
Prudence polished the apples, and Joel pounded
the corn, in eager anticipation; but when the day
arrived a disappointment awaited them, for their
father decreed that they should remain at home.
"You are over-young, my little Prudence, and
Joel is over-bold; besides which, he must stay and
care for you."
"And do neither of you leave the house while
your father and I are away," added the mother.
"I shall not have a moment's peace of mind, if I
think you are wandering outside alone."
"I will bring you back a Dutch cake, my little
sister," whispered Mehitable, who looked sweeter
than ever in her best attire of black silk and a lace
kerchief, which with an unwilling heart she had
put on in obedience to her mother's command.
But when the elders were gone the disappointment
and loneliness were too much for the children.
Prudence, being a girl, sat down in a
corner and cried; while Joel, being a boy, got angry,
and strode up and down the room with his
hands in his pockets.
"It is too bad!" he burst out suddenly. "The
greedy, grown-up people, I believe they want all
the food themselves! It's a downright shame to
keep us at home!"
"Joel!" gasped Prudence, horrified—"father
"Well, I know," admitted Joel, more mildly;
"but they need not have shut us up in the house
as if we were babies. Prudence, let's go out in
the yard and play, if we can't do anything else."
"But mother forbade us," said Prudence.
"I know. But then, of course, she only meant
we must not go into the woods for fear of wild
beasts. There is no danger here by the doorsteps,
and father won't care; he's not afraid!"
"I—don't—know," faltered Prudence.
"Well, I'm going, anyway," said Joel, resolutely,
taking his hat from the peg. "Ah, do
come too, Prudence!" he added persuasively.
So Prudence, though she knew in her heart it
was a naughty thing to do, took off her cap, and
tying her little Puritan bonnet under her chin, followed
Joel through the door.
Once outside, I am afraid their scruples were
soon forgotten. All the sunshine of the summer
and the sparkling air of the winter were fused together
to make a wonderful November day. The
children felt like colts just loosed, and ran and
shouted together till, if there had not been a good
deal of noise also at the stone house where the
feast was being spread, their shrill little voices
must surely have been heard there.
All at once Joel caught Prudence by the arm.
"Hush!" he exclaimed. "Look!"
A beautiful gray squirrel ran across the grass
in front of them. It stopped, poising its little head
and intently listening.
"I'm going to catch him," whispered Joel, excitedly.
"Father said if I could catch one, he
would make me a cage for it. Come along."
He tiptoed softly forward, but the squirrel
heard and was up and away in an instant. Joel
pursued, and Prudence ran after him. Such a
chase as the little creature gave them—up on the
fence, under the stones, across the fields, and
finally straight to the woods, with the children
panting and stumbling after, still keeping him in
sight. Breath and patience gave out at last; but
when they stopped, where were they? In the very
heart of the forest, where the dead leaves rustled,
and the sunlight slanted down upon them, and the
squirrel, safe in the top of a tree, chattered angrily.
"Never saw—anything run—so fast," panted
Joel in disgust. "I—give—him up. We had better
go back, Prudence. Why—but—I don't think
I know the way!"
Prudence's lip quivered, and her eyes filled.
"That's just like a girl!" said Joel, harshly,
"to go and cry the first thing."
"I don't care," cried Prudence, indignation
burning away her tears; "you brought me into
this, anyhow, Joel, and now you ought to get me
This was so obviously true that Joel had no
retort at hand. Besides, he did not like to see
Prudence unhappy. So, after a moment, he put
his arm around her.
"Never mind, Prue," he said; "I think if we
try together, we can find the way home."
But though they walked until their feet were
weary, they could find no familiar spot.
When they came out of the woods at last, it was
only to find themselves unexpectedly on the sandy
beach of the ocean. They sat down on two stones,
and looked at each other in silence. Joel began
to feel even his bravery giving way. All at once
they heard a sound of soft feet, and a low, sweet
"How do, English!"
A little Indian boy stood before them. He wore
a garment of skins, and a tiny bow and quiver
hung upon his back. His feet were bare, and he
walked so lightly that the children could hardly
hear his tread. Prudence, in fright, shrank close
to her brother; but Joel had seen many Indians
during their year in the New World, and the
stranger's eyes were so bright and soft that the
white boy returned the Indian's salutation. Then,
plunging his hand into his pocket, Joel brought
forth a handful of nut-meats, and held them out
for an offering.
"'HOW DO, ENGLISH!'"
The little Indian smiled delightedly, and politely
took a few—not all. Having munched the
kernels gravely, the new-comer began to dance.
It was a most remarkable dance. It was first
a stately measure, accompanied by many poisings
on his toes, and liftings of his head, from which
the wind blew back his straight black hair; but
gradually his motions grew faster and more furious,
his slow steps changed to running, he
turned, he twisted his lithe body into all possible
contorted shapes, he threw his arms high above
his head, waving them wildly, he took great leaps
into the air, and finally, when his dance had lasted
about fifteen minutes, several amazing somersaults
brought him breathless, but still smiling, to
the children's feet.
His spectators had been shouting with delight
during the whole performance, and now asked
him eager questions. What was his name? How
did he learn to dance? Could he not speak any
more English? But to all their inquiries he only
shook his head, and at last sat down beside them,
motionless now as any little bronze statue, and
looked steadily out to sea.
Prudence's head drooped upon her brother's
"I'm rather tired, Joel," she said wistfully;
"don't you think we could get to Plymouth pretty
"I don't know," said Joel, despondently.
At the words the Indian boy sprang to his feet.
He ran toward the woods, then stopped, and beckoned
them to follow.
"He is going in the wrong direction, I am
sure," said Joel, shaking his head.
The boy stamped on the ground with impatience,
and, running back, seized Prudence's hand,
and gently pulled her forward.
"Plymout'!" he said, in his strange accent.
The children looked at each other.
"We might as well try him," said Joel.
The boy clapped his hands together, and ran on
before them into the forest. It was a weary journey,
over bogs and fallen trees, and seemed three
times as long as when they had come. A wasp
once stung Prudence on the cheek, making her cry
out with pain; but quick as thought the little Indian
caught up a pellet of clay, and plastered it
upon the wound, and, marvelous to relate, before
many minutes the sharp pain had quite gone away.
The woods seemed gradually to grow a little
more open, and pretty soon they heard the distant
tinkle of a cow-bell. At last (Prudence held
her breath for fear it might not be true) they
emerged suddenly into the clearing, and home lay
They found they had made a complete circle
since they started.
Their little guide stooped and picked up a
gaudy-colored feather from the ground. He examined
it closely, and then he shouted aloud, and
began to run toward the storehouse as fast as his
sturdy legs could carry him.
"I want to see mother," said Prudence, half
crying with fatigue; so they ran all together
across the clearing.
All this while the feast had been progressing.
About noontime the great Massasoit, chief of the
Indian tribe called the Wampanoags, had emerged
from the forest with all his tallest braves in single
file behind him. They wore their best beaver-skins,
and their heads were gay with nodding
feathers. They were received at the door of the
storehouse by their English entertainers, who also
wore the bravest attire that Puritan custom allowed.
They gave the braves a hearty welcome.
Within, the long table fairly groaned with
abundance of good cheer; for the housewives had
vied with one another to provide the fattest game
and the daintiest dishes that Dutch or English
housewifery had taught them.
After asking a blessing, they all sat down, the
stalwart colonists and their fair-haired women
side by side with the taciturn Indians. The white
men felt that the best way to thank God for the
harvest was to share it with their dark-skinned
brethren, who had first taught them to plant
and raise the maize which now furnished the
Governor Bradford sat at the head of the table.
He hoped much from this feast; first, that it
might cement the friendship between the colonists
and their Indian neighbors, the Wampanoags;
and, second, that the news of it might induce the
neighboring tribes, which were still partly hostile,
to live in peace with the settlers. But though
food and talk passed blithely round among the
other guests, the governor saw, with growing dismay,
that the great Massasoit sat frowning and
depressed. The governor was not long in learning
the cause. The interpreter, observing the
governor's uneasiness, whispered in his ear that
in a recent war with the Narragansetts, Massasoit's
only child, a boy, was missed and was
thought to have been taken prisoner, and of
course put to death, after the cruel savage custom.
Toward the end of the feast, drink was served
to every guest. For the first time Massasoit
showed animation. He seized his cup, and lifted
it in the air, and cried aloud in his native tongue,
as he sprang to his feet:
"May plague and famine seize the Narragansetts!"
At that very moment the house-door opened,
and a pretty group appeared upon the threshold.
Two English children stood there, as fair and
rosy as the May-time, and between them a dark,
lithe little Indian with sparkling eyes.
Prudence ran straight to her mother.
Massasoit paused and trembled; then, as his
cup fell and shivered upon the ground, he crossed
the room in one stride, and caught the Indian boy
in his arms, looking at him as if he could never see
Governor Bradford knew in an instant that the
lost child had been restored, even without the Indian
warrior's shout of triumph, and Massasoit's
passionate exclamation: "Light of my eyes—staff
of my footsteps!—thou art come back to me—the
warmth of my heart, the sunlight of my
"'THOU ART COME BACK TO ME—THE WARMTH OF MY HEART, THE SUNLIGHT OF MY WIGWAM!' EXCLAIMED MASSASOIT"
The rejoicing was so great that no one thought
of chiding Joel and Prudence for their disobedience.
The governor himself gave Joel a large
slice of pudding, and Prudence told all her adventures,
throned upon her father's knee, wearing
around her neck a string of wampum which the
grateful Massasoit had hung there.
"And, oh!" she exclaimed, "while the Indian
boy was dancing for Joel and me, I looked out to
sea, and I saw such a wonderful bird—a great
white bird, flying along close to the water, and
rising up and down. It was many times greater
than the swans in Amsterdam!"
"Was it, my little maid?" said the good governor,
laying his hand on her head, and then he
exchanged a keen look with Prudence's father,
saying nothing more. But when the guests had
departed, bearing home the Indian boy in triumph,
none was so early as the governor to reach
the seashore; and it was his call that brought the
colonists to see the good ship Fortune (Prudence's
"great white bird") already rounding the
point, and making ready to cast anchor in Plymouth
Ah, then indeed the great guns rang out from
the shore to hail the ship, and the ship's cannon
boomed a quick reply, and the whole little town
was full and running over with glad welcome for
the second English vessel to land upon our Massachusetts
In the evening a happy circle gathered round
the fire in the house of Prudence's father, and
there was eager talk, for all had much to learn
and to tell.
"I know now," said Joel to Prudence, as they
sat side by side—"I know now what Thanksgiving
means. It means plenty to eat."
Prudence looked at the dear faces around her,
at Mehitable's sweet smile, and at the shining
eyes of John Andrews, for he had been a passenger
by the Fortune.
"Perhaps," she replied; "but I think, Joel, that
we have Thanksgiving because we are so glad to
be all together once more."
This first Thanksgiving happened long ago, but
out of it all our later ones have grown; and when
we think of the glad meetings of long-parted parents
and sons and daughters, of the merry frolics
with brothers and sisters and cousins, which come
upon Thanksgiving Day, in spite of our bountiful
dinner-tables we shall agree with Prudence that
it is the happy family party which makes the pleasure,