Thanksgiving at Todd's Asylum by Winthrop Packard

Many a chuckle lies in wait for the reader in the pages of this story. And the humour is of the sweet, mellow sort that sometimes brings moisture to the eyes as well as laughter to the lips.
PEOPLE said that if it had not been for that annuity Eph Todd would have been at the poor farm himself instead of setting up a rival to it; but there was the annuity, and that was the beginning of Todd's asylum.

No matter who or what you were, if you were in hard luck, Todd's asylum was open to you. The No. 4 district schoolhouse clock was a sample. For thirty years it had smiled from the wall upon successive generations of scholars, until, one day, bowed with years and infirmities, it had ceased to tick. It had been taken gently down, laid out on a desk in state for a day or two, and finally was in funeral procession to the rubbish heap when Eph Todd appeared.

"You're not going to throw that good old clock away?" Eph had asked of the committeeman who acted as bearer.

"Guess I'll have to," replied the other. "I've wound it up tight, put 'most a pint of kerosene in it, and shook it till I'm dizzy, and it won't tick a bit. Guess the old clock's done for."

"Now see here," said Eph; "you just let me have a try at it. Let me take it home a spell."

"Oh, for that matter I'll give it to you," the committeeman replied. "We've bought another for the schoolhouse."

A day or two after the old clock ticked away as soberly as ever on the wall of the Todd kitchen.

"Took it home and boiled it in potash," Eph used to say; "and there it is, just as good as it was thirty years ago."

This was true, with restrictions, for enough enamel was gone from the face to make the exact location of the hour an uncertain thing; and there were days, when the wind was in the east, when the hour hand needed periodical assistance.

"It wasn't much of a job," as Eph said, "to reach up once an hour and send the hand along one space, and Aunt Tildy had to have something to look forward to."

Aunt Tildy was the first inmate at Todd's, and if Eph had possessed no other recommendation to eternal beatitude, surely Aunt Tildy's prayers had been sufficient. She passed his house on her way to the poor farm on the very day that news of the legacy arrived, and Eph had stopped the carriage and begged the overseer to leave her with him.

"Are you sure you can take care of her?" asked the overseer, doubtfully.

"Sure?" echoed Eph with delight. "Of course I'm sure. Ain't I got four hundred dollars a year for the rest of my natural born days?"

"He's a good fellow, Eph Todd," mused the overseer as he drove away, "but I never heard of his having any money."

Next day the news of the legacy was common property, and Aunt Tildy had been an inmate at Todd's ever since. Her gratitude knew no bounds, and she really managed to keep the house after a fashion, her chief care being the clock.

Then there was the heaven-born inventor. He had dissipated his substance in inventing an incubator that worked with wonderful success till the day the chickens were to come out, when it took fire and burned up, taking with it chickens, barn, house, and furniture, leaving the heaven-born inventor standing in the field, thinly clad, and with nothing left in the world but another incubator.

With this he had shown up promptly at Todd's, and there he had dwelt thenceforth, using a pretty fair portion of the annuity in further incubator experiments.

With excellent sagacity, for him, Eph had obliged the heaven-born inventor to keep his machine in a little shed behind the barn, so that when this one burned up there was time to get the horse and cow out before the barn burned, and the village fire department managed to save the house. Repairing this loss made quite a hole in the annuity, and all the heaven-born inventor had to show for it was Miltiades. He had put a single turkey's egg in with a previous hatch, and though he had raised nary chicken, and it was contrary to all rhyme and reason, the turkey's egg had hatched and the chick had grown up to be Miltiades.

Miltiades was a big gobbler now, and had a right to be named Ishmael, for his hand was against all men. He took care of himself, was never shut up nor handled, and led a wild, nomadic life.

Last of all came Fisherman Jones. He was old now and couldn't see very well, unable to go to the brook or pond to fish, but he still started out daily with the fine new rod and reel which the annuity had bought for him, and would sit out in the sun, joint his rod together, and fish in the dry pasture with perfect contentment.

You would not think Fisherman Jones of much use, but it was he who caught Miltiades and made the Thanksgiving dinner possible.

The new barn had exhausted the revenues completely, and there would be no more income until January 1st; but one must have a turkey for Thanksgiving, and there was Miltiades. To catch Miltiades became the household problem, and the heaven-born inventor set wonderful traps for him, which caught almost everything but Miltiades, who easily avoided them. Eph used to go out daily before breakfast and chase Miltiades, but he might as well have chased a government position. The turkey scorned him, and grew only wilder and tougher, till he had a lean and hungry look that would have shamed Cassius.

The day before Thanksgiving it looked as if there would be no turkey dinner at Todd's, but here Fisherman Jones stepped into the breach. It was a beautiful Indian-summer day, and he hobbled out into the field for an afternoon's fishing. Here he sat on a log, and began to make casts in the open. Nearby, under a savin bush, lurked Miltiades, and viewed these actions with the scorn of long familiarity. By and by Fisherman Jones kicked up a loose bit of bark, and disclosed beneath it a fine fat white grub, of the sort which blossoms into June beetles with the coming of spring. He was not so blind but that he saw this, and with a chuckle at the thoughts it called up, he baited his hook with it.

A moment after, Eph Todd, coming out of the new barn, heard the click of a reel, and was astonished to see Fisherman Jones standing almost erect, his eyes blazing with the old-time fire, his rod bent, his reel buzzing, while at the end of a good forty feet of line was Miltiades rushing in frantic strides for the woods.

"Good land!" said Eph; "it's the turkey! Snub him," he yelled. "Don't let him get all the line on you! He's hooked! Snub him! snub him!"

The whir of the reel deadened now, and the stride of Miltiades was perceptibly lessened and then became but a vigorous up-and-down hop, while the tense line sang in the gentle autumn breeze.

"Eph Todd!" gasped Fisherman Jones, "this is the whoppingest old bass I ever hooked onto yet. Beeswax, how he does pull!" And with the words Fisherman Jones went backward over the log, waving the pole and a pair of stiff legs in air. The turkey had suddenly slackened the line.

"Give him the butt! Give him the butt!" roared Eph, rushing up. Even where he lay the fisherman blood in Fisherman Jones responded to this stirring appeal, and as the rod bent in a tense half circle a race began such as no elderly fisherman was ever the centre of before.

Round and round went Miltiades, with the white grub in his crop, and the line above it gripped tightly in his strong beak; and round and round went Eph Todd, his outstretched arms waving like the turkey's wings, and his big boots denting the soft pasture turf with the vigour of his gallop. In the centre Fisherman Jones, too nearsighted to see what he had hooked, had risen on one knee, and revolved with the coursing bird, his soul wrapped in one idea: to keep the butt of his rod aimed at the whirling game.

"Hang to him! Reel him in! We'll get him!" shouted Eph; and, with the word, he caught his toe and vanished into the prickly depths of the savin bush, just as the heaven-born inventor came over the hill. It would be interesting to know just what scheme the heaven-born inventor would have put in motion for the capture of Miltiades, but just then he stepped into one of his own extraordinary traps, set for the turkey of course, and, with one foot held fast, began to flounder about with cries of rage and dismay.

This brought Eph's head above the fringe of savin bush again, and now he beheld a wonderful sight. Fisherman Jones was again on his feet, staring in wild surprise at Miltiades, whom he sighted for the first time, within ten feet of him. There was no pressure on the reel, and Miltiades was swallowing the line in big gulps, evidently determined to have not only the white grub, but all that went with it.

Fisherman Jones's cry of dismay was almost as bitter as that of the heaven-born inventor, who still writhed in his own trap.

"Oh, Eph! Eph!" he whimpered, "he's eating up my tackle! He's eating up my tackle!"

"Never mind!" shouted Eph. "Don't be afraid! I reckon he'll stop when he gets to the pole!"

Those of us who knew Miltiades at his best have doubts as to this, but, fortunately, it was not put to the test. Eph scrambled out of his bush, and, taking up the chase once more, soon brought it to an end, for Fisherman Jones, his nerve completely gone, could only stand and mumble sadly to himself, "He's eating up my tackle! He's eating up my tackle!" and the line, wrapping about his motionless form, led Eph and the turkey in a brief spiral which ended in the conjunction of the three.

It was not until the turkey was decapitated that Eph remembered the heaven-born inventor and hastened to his rescue. He was still in the trap, but he was quite content, for he was figuring out a plan for an automatic release from the same, something which should hold the captive so long and then let him go in the interests of humanity. He found the trap from the captive's point of view very interesting and instructive.

The tenacity of Miltiades's make-up was further shown by the difficulty Eph and Fisherman Jones had in separating him from his feathers that evening; and Aunt Tildy was so interested in the project of the heaven-born inventor to raise featherless turkeys that she forgot the yeast cake she had put to soak until it had been boiling merrily for some time. Everything seemed to go wrong-end-to, and they all sat up so late that Mrs. Simpkins, across the way, was led to observe that "Either some one was dead over at Todd's or else they were having a family party"; and in a certain sense she was right both ways.

The crowning misadventure came next morning. Eph started for the village with his mind full of commissions from Aunt Tildy, some of which he was sure to forget, and in a great hurry lest he forget them all. He threw the harness hastily upon Dobbin, hitched him into the wagon which had stood out on the soft ground overnight, and with an eager "Get up, there!" gave him a slap with the reins.

Next moment there was a ripping sound, and the heaven-born inventor came to the door just in time to see the horse going out of the yard on a run, with Eph following, still clinging to the reins, and taking strides much like those of Baron Munchausen's courier.

"Here, here!" called the inventor, "you've forgot the wagon. Come back, Eph! You've forgot the wagon!"

"Jeddediah Jodkins!" said Eph, as he swung an eccentric curve about the gatepost; "do you—whoa!—suppose I'm such a—whoa! whoa!—fool that I don't know that I'm not riding—whoa! in a—whoa! whoa!—wagon?" And with this Eph vanished up street in the wake of the galloping horse, still clinging valiantly to the reins.

"I believe he did forget that wagon," said the heaven-born inventor; "he's perfectly capable of it." But when he reached the barn he saw the trouble. The ground had frozen hard overnight, and the wagon wheels sunken in it were held as in a vise. Eph had started the horse suddenly, and the obedient animal had walked right out of the shafts, harness and all.

A half hour later Eph was back with Dobbin, unharmed but a trifle weary. It took an hour more and all Aunt Tildy's hot water to thaw out the wheels, and when it was done Eph was so confused that he drove to the village and back and forgot every one of his commissions. And in the midst of all this the clock stopped. That settled the matter for Aunt Tildy. She neglected the pudding, she forgot the pies, and she let the turkey bake and bake in the overheated oven while she fretted about that clock; and when it was finally set going, after long and careful investigation by Eph, and frantic but successful attempts on the part of Aunt Tildy to keep the heaven-born inventor from ruining it forever, it was the dinner hour.

Poor Aunt Tildy! That dinner was the crowning sorrow of her life. The vegetables were cooked to rags, the pies were charcoal shells, and the pudding had not been made. As for Miltiades, he was ten times tougher than in life, and Eph's carving knife slipped from his form without making a dent. Aunt Tildy wept at this, and Fisherman Jones and the inventor looked blank enough, but there was no sorrow in the countenance of Eph. He cheered Aunt Tildy, and he cracked jokes that made even Fisherman Jones laugh.

"Why, bless you!" he said, "ever since I was a boy I've been looking for a chance to make a Thanksgiving dinner out of bread and milk. And now I've got it. Why, I wouldn't have missed this for anything!" And there came a knock at the door.

Even Eph looked a trifle blank at this. If it should be company! "Come in!" he called.

The door was pushed aside and a big, steaming platter entered. It was upheld by a small boy, who stammered diffidently, "My moth-moth-mother thaid she wanted you to try thum of her nith turkey."

"Well, well!" said Eph; "Aunt Tildy has cooked a turkey for us to-day, and she's a main good cook"—Eph did not appear to see the signs the heaven-born inventor was making to him—"but I've heard that your mother does things pretty well, too. We're greatly obliged." And Eph put the steaming platter on the table.

"She thays you c-c-can thend the platter home to-morrow," stammered the boy, and stammering himself out, he ran into another. The other held high a big dish of plum pudding, from which a spicy aroma filled the room. Again the heaven-born inventor made signs to Eph.

"Our folks told me to ask if you wouldn't try this plum pudding," said the newcomer. "They made an extra one, and the cousins we expected didn't come, so we can spare it just as well as not."

It seemed as if Eph hesitated a moment, and the inventor's face became a panorama. Then he took the boy by the hand, and there was an odd shake in his voice as he said:

"I'm greatly obliged to you. We all are. Something happened to our plum pudding, and we didn't have any. Tell your ma we send our thanks."

There was a sound of voices greeting in the hallway, and two young girls entered, each laden with a basket.

"Oh, Mr. Todd," they both said at once, "we couldn't wait to knock. We want you to try some of our Thanksgiving. It was mother's birthday, and we cooked extra for that, and we've got so much. We can't get all ours onto the table. She'll feel real hurt if you don't."

Somehow Eph couldn't say a word, but there was nothing the matter with the heaven-born inventor. His speech of delighted acceptance was such a good one that before he was half done the girls had loaded the table with good things, and, with smiles and nods and "good-byes," slipped out as rapidly and as gayly as they had come in. It was like a gust of wind from a summer garden.

The table, but now so bare, fairly sagged and steamed with offerings of Thanksgiving. Somehow the steam got into Eph's eyes and made them wet, till all he could do was to say whimsically:

"There goes my last chance at a bread-and-milk Thanksgiving."

But now Aunt Tildy had the floor, with her faded face all alight.

"Eph Todd," she said, "you needn't look so flustrated. It's nothing more than you deserve and not half so much either. Ain't you the kindest man yourself that ever lived? Ain't you always doing something for everybody, and helping every one of these neighbours in all sorts of ways? I'd like to know what the whole place would do without you! And now, just because they remember you on Thanksgiving Day, you look like——"

The steam had got into Aunt Tildy's eyes now, and she sat down again just as there came another knock at the door, a timid sort of knock this time.

The heaven-born inventor's face widened in beatified smiles of expectation at this, but Eph looked him sternly in the eye.

"Jeddediah Jodkins!" he said; "if that is any more people bringing things to eat to this house, they'll have to go away. We can't have it. We've got enough here now to feed a—a boarding school."

The heaven-born inventor sprang eagerly to his feet. "Don't you do it, Eph," he said, "don't you do it. I've just thought of a way to can it."

A thinly clad man and woman stood at the door which Eph opened. Both looked pale and tired, and the woman shivered.

"Can you tell me where I can get work," asked the man, doggedly, "so that I can earn a little something to eat? We are not beggars"—he flushed a little through his pallor—"but I have had no work lately, and we have eaten nothing since yesterday. We are looking——"

The man stopped, and well he might, for Eph was dancing wildly about the two, and hustling them into the house.

"Come in!" he shouted. "Come in! Come in! You're the folks we are waiting for! Eat? Why, goodness gra-cious! We've got so much to eat we don't know what to do with it."

He had them in chairs in a moment and was piling steaming roast turkey on their plates. "There!" he said, "don't you say another word till you have filled up on that. Folks"—and he returned to the others—"here's two friends that have come to stay a week with us and help eat turkey. Fall to! This is going to be the pleasantest Thanksgiving we've had yet."

And thus two new inmates were added to Todd's asylum.