The chill November days drew to a close. The shrill winds whistled through the branches of the trees, and stirred the leaves which lay in brown heaps upon the ground. But at the end of the month came Thanksgiving--the farmer's Harvest Home. The fruits of the field were in abundance but in many a home there were vacant chairs, never more, alas! to be filled. But he who dies in a noble cause leaves sweet and fragrant memories behind, which shall ever after make it pleasant to think of him.
Thanksgiving morning dawned foggy and cold. Yet there is something in the name that warms the heart and makes the dullest day seem bright. The sunshine of the heart more than compensates for the absence of sunshine without.
Frank had not been idle.
The night before he helped Jacob kill a turkey and a pair of chickens, and seated on a box in the barn they had picked them clean in preparation for the morrow,
Within the house, too, might be heard the notes of busy preparation. Alice, sitting in a low chair, was busily engaged in chopping meat for mince pies. Maggie sat near her paring pumpkins, for a genuine New England Thanksgiving cannot be properly celebrated without pumpkin pies. Even little Charlie found work to do in slicing apples.
By evening a long row of pies might be seen upon the kitchen dresser. Brown and flaky they looked, fit for the table of a prince. So the children thought as they surveyed the attractive array, and felt that Thanksgiving, come as often as it might, could never be unwelcome.
Through the forenoon of Thanksgiving day the preparations continued. Frank and Mr. Morton went to the village church, where an appropriate service was held by Reverend Mr. Apthorp. There were but few of the village matrons present. They were mostly detained at home by housewifely cares, which on that day could not well be delegated to other hands.
"Mr. Morton," said Frank, as they walked leisurely home, "did you notice how Squire Haynes stared at you this morning?"
Mr. Morton looked interested. "Did he?" he asked. "I did not notice."
"Yes, he turned halfround, and looked at you with a puzzled expression, as if he thought he had seen you somewhere before, but could not recall who you were."
"Perhaps I reminded him of some one he has known in past years," said the young man quietly. "We sometimes find strange resemblances in utter strangers."
"I think he must have felt quite interested," pursued Frank, "for he stopped me after church, and inquired who you were."
"Indeed!" said Henry Morton quietly. "And what did you tell him?"
"I told him your name, and mentioned that you were boarding with us."
"What then? Did he make any further inquiries?"
"He asked where you came from."
"He seemed quite curious about me. I ought to feel flattered. And what did you reply?"
"I told him I did not know--that I only knew that part of your life had been passed in Europe. I heard him say under his breath, 'It is singular.' "
"Frank," said Mr. Morton, after a moment's thought, "I wish to have Squire Haynes learn as little of me as possible. If, therefore, he should ask you how I am employed, you say that I have come here for the benefit of my health. This is one of my motives, though not the principal one."
"I will remember," said Frank. "I don't think he will say much to me, however. He has a grudge against father, and his son does not like me. I am sorry that father is compelled to have some business relations with the squire."
"Yes, he holds a mortgage on our farm for eight hundred dollars. It was originally more, but it has been reduced to this. He will have the right to foreclose on the first of July."
"Shall you have the money ready for him at that time?"
"No; we may have half enough, perhaps. I am sometimes troubled when I think of it. Father feels confident, however, that the squire will not be hard upon us, but will renew the mortgage."
Henry Morton looked very thoughtful, but said nothing.
They had now reached the farmhouse.
Dinner was already on the table. In the center, on a large dish, was the turkey, done to a turn. It was flanked by the chickens on a smaller dish. These were supported by various vegetables, such as the season supplied. A dish of cranberry sauce stood at one end of the table, and at the opposite end a dish of apple sauce.
"Do you think you can carve the turkey, Mr. Morton?" asked Mrs. Frost.
"I will at least make the attempt."
"I want the wish-bone, Mr. Morton," said Maggie.
"No, I want it," said Charlie.
"You shall both have one," said the mother. "Luckily each of the chickens is provided with one."
"I know what I am going to wish," said Charlie. nodding his head with decision.
"Well, Charlie, what is it?" asked Frank.
"I shall wish that papa may come home safe."
"And so will I," said Maggie.
"I wish he might sit down with us to-day," said Mrs. Frost, with a little sigh. "He has never before been absent from us on Thanksgiving day."
"Was he well when you last heard from him?"
"Yes, but hourly expecting orders to march to join the army in Maryland. I am afraid he won't get as good a Thanksgiving dinner as this."
"Two years ago," said Mr. Morton, "I ate my Thanksgiving dinner in Amsterdam."
"Do they have Thanksgiving there, Mr. Morton?" inquired Alice.
"No, they know nothing of our good New England festival. I was obliged to order a special dinner for myself. I don't think you would have recognized plum pudding under the name which they gave it."
"What was it?" asked Frank curiously.
"Blom buden was the name given on the bill."
"I can spell better than that," said Charlie.
"We shall have to send you out among the Dutchmen as a schoolmaster plenipotentiary," said Frank, laughing. "I hope the 'blom buden' was good in spite of the way it was spelt."
"Yes, it was very good."
"I don't believe it beat mother's," said Charlie.
"At your present rate of progress, Charlie, you won't leave room for any," said Frank.
"I wish I had two stomachs," said Charlie, looking regretfully at the inviting delicacies which tempted him with what the French call the embarrassment of riches.
"Well done, Charlie!" laughed his mother.
Dinner was at length over. Havoc and desolation reigned upon the once well-filled table.
In the evening, as they all sat together round the table, Maggie climbed on Mr. Morton's knee and petitioned for a story.
"What shall it be about?" he asked.
"Let me think a moment," said the young man.
He bent his eyes thoughtfully upon the wood-fire that crackled in the wide-open fireplace, and soon signified that he was ready to begin.
All the children gathered around him, and even Mrs. Frost, sitting quietly at her knitting, edged her chair a little nearer, that she, too, might listen to Mr. Morton's story. As this was of some length, we shall devote to it a separate chapter.