John Inglefield's Thanksgiving
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A sad Thanksgiving story is a rarity indeed. But the one which
follows reminds us that the Puritans, although they originated our
Thanksgiving festival, were after all a sombre people, seldom free
from a realizing sense of the imminence of sin. Nathaniel Hawthorne,
a genuine product of Puritanism, inherited a full share of his
forefathers' constitutional melancholy and preoccupation with the
darker aspects of life—as this story bears witness.
ON THE evening of Thanksgiving Day, John Inglefield,
the blacksmith, sat in his elbow-chair
among those who had been keeping festival at his board.
Being the central figure of the domestic circle, the fire
threw its strongest light on his massive and sturdy frame,
reddening his rough visage so that it looked like the
head of an iron statue, all aglow, from his own forge,
and with its features rudely fashioned on his own anvil.
At John Inglefield's right hand was an empty chair.
The other places round the hearth were filled by the
members of the family, who all sat quietly, while, with
a semblance of fantastic merriment, their shadows
danced on the wall behind them. One of the group
was John Inglefield's son, who had been bred at college,
and was now a student of theology at Andover.
There was also a daughter of sixteen, whom nobody
could look at without thinking of a rosebud almost blossomed.
The only other person at the fireside was
Robert Moore, formerly an apprentice of the blacksmith,
but now his journeyman, and who seemed more
like an own son of John Inglefield than did the pale and
Only these four had kept New England's festival
beneath that roof. The vacant chair at John Inglefield's
right hand was in memory of his wife, whom
death had snatched from him since the previous Thanksgiving.
With a feeling that few would have looked for
in his rough nature, the bereaved husband had himself
set the chair in its place next his own; and often did
his eye glance hitherward, as if he deemed it possible
that the cold grave might send back its tenant to the
cheerful fireside, at least for that one evening. Thus
did he cherish the grief that was clear to him. But
there was another grief which he would fain have torn
from his heart; or, since that could never be, have
buried it too deep for others to behold, or for his own
remembrance. Within the past year another member of
his household had gone from him, but not to the grave.
Yet they kept no vacant chair for her.
While John Inglefield and his family were sitting
round the hearth with the shadows dancing behind them
on the wall, the outer door was opened, and a light footstep
came along the passage. The latch of the inner
door was lifted by some familiar hand, and a young
girl came in, wearing a cloak and hood, which she took
off and laid on the table beneath the looking-glass.
Then, after gazing a moment at the fireside circle, she
approached, and took the seat at John Inglefield's right
hand, as if it had been reserved on purpose for her.
"Here I am, at last, father," said she. "You ate
your Thanksgiving dinner without me, but I have come
back to spend the evening with you."
Yes, it was Prudence Inglefield. She wore the same
neat and maidenly attire which she had been accustomed
to put on when the household work was over for
the day, and her hair was parted from her brow in
the simple and modest fashion that became her best
of all. If her cheek might otherwise have been pale,
yet the glow of the fire suffused it with a healthful bloom.
If she had spent the many months of her absence in
guilt and infamy, yet they seemed to have left no traces
on her gentle aspect. She could not have looked less
altered had she merely stepped away from her father's
fireside for half an hour, and returned while the blaze
was quivering upward from the same brands that were
burning at her departure. And to John Inglefield she
was the very image of his buried wife, such as he remembered
on the first Thanksgiving which they had passed
under their own roof. Therefore, though naturally a
stern and rugged man, he could not speak unkindly
to his sinful child, nor yet could he take her to his
"You are welcome home, Prudence," said he, glancing
sideways at her, and his voice faltered. "Your
mother would have rejoiced to see you, but she has been
gone from us these four months."
"I know, father, I know it," replied Prudence quickly.
"And yet, when I first came in, my eyes were so dazzled
by the firelight that she seemed to be sitting in this
By this time, the other members of the family had
begun to recover from their surprise, and became sensible
that it was no ghost from the grave, nor vision
of their vivid recollections, but Prudence, her own self.
Her brother was the next that greeted her. He advanced
and held out his hand affectionately, as a brother
should; yet not entirely like a brother, for, with all his
kindness, he was still a clergyman and speaking to a
child of sin.
"Sister Prudence," said he, earnestly, "I rejoice
that a merciful Providence hath turned your steps
homeward in time for me to bid you a last farewell.
In a few weeks, sister, I am to sail as a missionary to
the far islands of the Pacific. There is not one of these
beloved faces that I shall ever hope to behold again on
this earth. Oh, may I see all of them—yours and all—beyond
A shadow flitted across the girl's countenance.
"The grave is very dark, brother," answered she,
withdrawing her hand somewhat hastily from his grasp.
"You must look your last at me by the light of this fire."
While this was passing, the twin girl—the rosebud
that had grown on the same stem with the castaway—stood
gazing at her sister, longing to fling herself upon
her bosom, so that the tendrils of their hearts might
intertwine again. At first she was restrained by mingled
grief and shame, and by a dread that Prudence was
too much changed to respond to her affection, or that
her own purity would be felt as a reproach by the lost
one. But, as she listened to the familiar voice, while
the face grew more and more familiar, she forgot everything
save that Prudence had come back. Springing
forward she would have clasped her in a close embrace.
At that very instant, however, Prudence started from
her chair and held out both her hands with a warning
"No, Mary, no, my sister," cried she, "do not you
touch me! Your bosom must not be pressed to mine!"
Mary shuddered and stood still, for she felt that something
darker than the grave was between Prudence and
herself, though they seemed so near each other in the
light of their father's hearth, where they had grown up
together. Meanwhile Prudence threw her eyes around
the room in search of one who had not yet bidden her
welcome. He had withdrawn from his seat by the fireside
and was standing near the door, with his face
averted so that his features could be discerned only by
the flickering shadow of the profile upon the wall. But
Prudence called to him in a cheerful and kindly tone:
"Come, Robert," said she, "won't you shake hands
with your old friend?"
Robert Moore held back for a moment, but affection
struggled powerfully and overcame his pride and resentment;
he rushed toward Prudence, seized her hand,
and pressed it to his bosom.
"There, there, Robert," said she, smiling sadly, as
she withdrew her hand, "you must not give me too
warm a welcome."
And now, having exchanged greetings with each member
of the family, Prudence again seated herself in the
chair at John Inglefield's right hand. She was naturally
a girl of quick and tender sensibilities, gladsome in
her general mood, but with a bewitching pathos interfused
among her merriest words and deeds. It was remarked
of her, too, that she had a faculty, even from
childhood, of throwing her own feelings like a spell over
her companions. Such as she had been in her days of
innocence, so did she appear this evening. Her friends,
in the surprise and bewilderment of her return, almost
forgot that she had ever left them, or that she had forfeited
any of her claims to their affection. In the morning,
perhaps, they might have looked at her with altered
eyes, but by the Thanksgiving fireside they felt only
that their own Prudence had come back to them, and
were thankful. John Inglefield's rough visage brightened
with the glow of his heart, as it grew warm and merry
within him; once or twice, even, he laughed till the room
rang again, yet seemed startled by the echo of his own
mirth. The brave young minister became as frolicsome
as a schoolboy. Mary, too, the rosebud, forgot that
her twin-blossom had ever been torn from the stem
and trampled in the dust. And as for Robert Moore,
he gazed at Prudence with the bashful earnestness of
love new-born, while she, with sweet maiden coquetry,
half smiled upon and half discouraged him.
In short, it was one of those intervals when sorrow
vanishes in its own depth of shadow, and joy starts
forth in transitory brightness. When the clock struck
eight, Prudence poured out her father's customary
draught of herb tea, which had been steeping by the
fireside ever since twilight.
"God bless you, child," said John Inglefield, as he
took the cup from her hand; "you have made your old
father happy again. But we miss your mother sadly,
Prudence, sadly. It seems as if she ought to be here
"Now, father, or never," replied Prudence.
It was now the hour for domestic worship. But while
the family were making preparations for this duty,
they suddenly perceived that Prudence had put on her
cloak and hood, and was lifting the latch of the door.
"Prudence, Prudence! where are you going?" cried
they all with one voice.
As Prudence passed out of the door, she turned toward
them and flung back her hand with a gesture of farewell.
But her face was so changed that they hardly
recognized it. Sin and evil passions glowed through
its comeliness, and wrought a horrible deformity; a
smile gleamed in her eyes, as of triumphant mockery,
at their surprise and grief.
"Daughter," cried John Inglefield, between wrath
and sorrow, "stay and be your father's blessing, or
take his curse with you!"
For an instant Prudence lingered and looked back
into the fire-lighted room, while her countenance wore
almost the expression as if she were struggling with a
fiend who had power to seize his victim even within
the hallowed precincts of her father's hearth. The
fiend prevailed, and Prudence vanished into the outer
darkness. When the family rushed to the door, they
could see nothing, but heard the sound of wheels rattling
over the frozen ground.
That same night, among the painted beauties at the
theatre of a neighbouring city, there was one whose
dissolute mirth seemed inconsistent with any sympathy
for pure affections, and for the joys and griefs
which are hallowed by them. Yet this was Prudence
Inglefield. Her visit to the Thanksgiving fireside was
the realization of one of those waking dreams in which
the guilty soul will sometimes stray back to its innocence.
But Sin, alas! is careful of her bondslaves;
they hear her voice, perhaps, at the holiest moment, and
are constrained to go whither she summons them. The
same dark power that drew Prudence Inglefield from
her father's hearth—the same in its nature, though
heightened then to a dread necessity—would snatch a
guilty soul from the gate of heaven, and make its sin
and its punishment alike eternal.