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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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