Thankful is a delightful children's story about two girls who have a turkey-weighing contest. Who will win? Freeman's story was published in Harper's Young People, November 25, 1890. Enjoy more Thanksgiving Stories for Kids
Asa Dickinson, The Children's Book of Thanksgiving Stories, 1915

[This tale is evidence that Mrs. Freeman understands the children of New England as well as she knows their parents. There is a doll in the story, but boys will not mind this as there are also two turkey-gobblers and a pewter dish full of Revolutionary bullets.]

SUBMIT THOMPSON sat on the stone wall; Sarah Adams, an erect, prim little figure, ankle-deep in dry grass, stood beside it, holding Thankful. Thankful was about ten inches long, made of the finest linen, with little rosy cheeks, and a fine little wig of flax. She wore a blue wool frock and a red cloak. Sarah held her close. She even drew a fold of her own blue homespun blanket around her to shield her from the November wind. The sky was low and gray; the wind blew from the northeast, and had the breath of snow in it. Submit on the wall drew her quilted petticoats close down over her feet, and huddled herself into a small space, but her face gleamed keen and resolute out of the depths of a great red hood that belonged to her mother. Her eyes were fixed upon a turkey-gobbler ruffling and bobbing around the back door of the Adams house. The two gambrel-roofed Thompson and Adams houses were built as close together as if the little village of Bridgewater were a city. Acres of land stretched behind them and at the other sides, but they stood close to the road, and close to each other. The narrow space between them was divided by a stone wall which was Submit's and Sarah's trysting-place. They met there every day and exchanged confidences. They loved each other like sisters—neither of them had an own sister—but to-day a spirit of rivalry had arisen. The tough dry blackberry vines on the wall twisted around Submit; she looked, with her circle of red petticoat, like some strange late flower blooming out on the wall. "I know he don't, Sarah Adams," said she.

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Thankful illustration"Father said he'd weigh twenty pounds," returned Sarah, in a small, weak voice, which still had persistency in it.

"I don't believe he will. Our Thanksgiving turkey is twice as big. You know he is, Sarah Adams."

"No, I don't, Submit Thompson."

"Yes, you do."

Sarah lowered her chin, and shook her head with a decision that was beyond words. She was a thin, delicate-looking little girl, her small blue-clad figure bent before the wind, but there was resolution in her high forehead and her sharp chin.

Submit nodded violently.

Sarah shook her head again. She hugged Thankful, and shook her head, with her eyes still staring defiantly into Submit's hood.

Submit's black eyes in the depths of it were like two sparks. She nodded vehemently; the gesture was not enough for her; she nodded and spoke together. "Sarah Adams," said she, "what will you give me if our turkey is bigger than your turkey?"

"It ain't."

"What will you give me if it is?"

Sarah stared at Submit. "I don't know what you mean, Submit Thompson," said she, with a stately and puzzled air.

"Well, I'll tell you. If your turkey weighs more than ours I'll give you—I'll give you my little work-box with the picture on the top, and if our turkey weighs more than yours you give me—— What will you give me, Sarah Adams?"

Sarah hung her flaxen head with a troubled air. "I don't know," said she. "I don't believe I've got anything mother would be willing to have me give away."

"There's Thankful. Your mother wouldn't care if you gave her away."

Sarah started, and hugged Thankful closer. "Yes, my mother would care, too," said she. "Don't you know my Aunt Rose from Boston made her and gave her to me?"

Sarah's beautiful young Aunt Rose from Boston was the special admiration of both the little girls. Submit was ordinarily impressed by her name, but now she took it coolly.

"What if she did?" she returned. "She can make another. It's just made out of a piece of old linen, anyhow. My work-box is real handsome; but you can do just as you are a mind to."

"Do you mean I can have the work-box to keep?" inquired Sarah.

"Course I do, if your turkey's bigger."

Sarah hesitated. "Our turkey is bigger anyhow," she murmured. "Don't you think I ought to ask mother, Submit?" she inquired suddenly.

"No! What for? I don't see anything to ask your mother for. She won't care anything about that rag doll."

"Ain't you going to ask your mother about the work-box?"

"No," replied Submit stoutly. "It's mine; my grandmother gave it to me."

Sarah reflected. "I know our turkey is the biggest," she said, looking lovingly at Thankful, as if to justify herself to her. "Well, I don't care," she added, finally.

"Will you?"


"When's yours going to be killed?"

"This afternoon."

"So's ours. Then we'll find out."

Sarah tucked Thankful closer under her shawl. "I know our turkey is biggest," said she. She looked very sober, although her voice was defiant. Just then the great turkey came swinging through the yard. He held up his head proudly and gobbled. His every feather stood out in the wind. He seemed enormous—a perfect giant among turkeys. "Look at him!" said Sarah, edging a little closer to the wall; she was rather afraid of him.

"He ain't half so big as ours," returned Submit, stoutly; but her heart sank. The Thompson turkey did look very large.

"Submit! Submit!" called a voice from the Thompson house.

Submit slowly got down from the wall. "His feathers are a good deal thicker than ours," she said, defiantly, to Sarah.

"Submit," called the voice, "come right home! I want you to pare apples for the pies. Be quick!"

"Yes, marm," Submit answered back, in a shrill voice; "I'm coming!" Then she went across the yard and into the kitchen door of the Thompson house, like a red robin into a nest. Submit had been taught to obey her mother promptly. Mrs. Thompson was a decided woman.

Sarah looked after Submit, then she gathered Thankful closer, and also went into the house. Her mother, as well as Mrs. Thompson, was preparing for Thanksgiving. The great kitchen was all of a pleasant litter with pie plates and cake pans and mixing bowls, and full of warm, spicy odours. The oven in the chimney was all heated and ready for a batch of apple and pumpkin pies. Mrs. Adams was busy sliding them in, but she stopped to look at Sarah and Thankful. Sarah was her only child.

"Why, what makes you look so sober?" said she.

"Nothing," replied Sarah. She had taken off her blanket, and sat in one of the straight-backed kitchen chairs, holding Thankful.

"You look dreadful sober," said her mother. "Are you tired?"

"No, marm."

"I'm afraid you've got cold standing out there in the wind. Do you feel chilly?"

"No, marm. Mother, how much do you suppose our turkey weighs?"

"I believe father said he'd weigh about twenty pounds. You are sure you don't feel chilly?"

"No, marm. Mother, do you suppose our turkey weighs more than Submit's?"

"How do you suppose I can tell? I ain't set eyes on their turkey lately. If you feel well, you'd better sit up to the table and stone that bowl of raisins. Put your dolly away, and get your apron."

But Sarah stoned raisins with Thankful in her lap, hidden under her apron. She was so full of anxiety that she could not bear to put her away. Suppose the Thompson turkey should be larger, and she should lose Thankful—Thankful that her beautiful Aunt Rose had made for her?

Submit, over in the Thompson house, had sat down at once to her apple paring. She had not gone into the best room to look at the work-box whose possession she had hazarded. It stood in there on the table, made of yellow satiny wood, with a sliding lid ornamented with a beautiful little picture. Submit had a certain pride in it, but her fear of losing it was not equal to her hope of possessing Thankful. Submit had never had a doll, except a few plebeian ones, manufactured secretly out of corncobs, whom it took more imagination than she possessed to admire.

Gradually all emulation over the turkeys was lost in the naughty covetousness of her little friend and neighbour's doll. Submit felt shocked and guilty, but she sat there paring the Baldwin apples, and thinking to herself: "If our turkey is only bigger, if it only is, then—I shall have Thankful." Her mouth was pursed up and her eyes snapped. She did not talk at all, but pared very fast.

Her mother looked at her. "If you don't take care, you'll cut your fingers," said she. "You are in too much of a hurry. I suppose you want to get out and gossip with Sarah again at the wall, but I can't let you waste any more time to-day. There, I told you you would!"

Submit had cut her thumb quite severely. She choked a little when her mother tied it up, and put on some balm of Gilead, which made it smart worse.

"Don't cry!" said her mother. "You'll have to bear more than a cut thumb if you live."

And Submit did not let the tears fall. She came from a brave race. Her great-grandfather had fought in the Revolution; his sword and regimentals were packed in the fine carved chest in the best room. Over the kitchen shelf hung an old musket with which her great-grandmother, guarding her home and children, had shot an Indian. In a little closet beside the chimney was an old pewter dish full of homemade Revolutionary bullets, which Submit and her brothers had for playthings. A little girl who played with Revolutionary bullets ought not to cry over a cut thumb.

Submit finished paring the apples after her thumb was tied up, although she was rather awkward about it. Then she pounded spices in the mortar, and picked over cranberries. Her mother kept her busy every minute until dinnertime. When Submit's father and her two brothers, Thomas and Jonas, had come in, she began on the subject nearest her heart.

"Father," said she, "how much do you think our Thanksgiving turkey will weigh?"

Mr. Thompson was a deliberate man. He looked at her a minute before replying. "Seventeen or eighteen pounds," replied he.

"Oh, Father! don't you think he will weigh twenty?" Mr. Thompson shook his head.

"He don't begin to weigh so much as the Adams' turkey," said Jonas. "Their turkey weighs twenty pounds."

"Oh, Thomas! do you think their turkey weighs more than ours?" cried Submit.

Thomas was her elder brother; he had a sober, judicial air like his father. "Their turkey weighs considerable more than ours," said he.

Submit's face fell.

"You are not showing a right spirit," said her mother, severely. "Why should you care if the Adams' turkey does weigh more? I am ashamed of you!"

Submit said no more. She ate her dinner soberly. Afterward she wiped dishes while her mother washed. All the time she was listening. Her father and brothers had gone out; presently she started. "Oh, Mother, they're killing the turkey!" said she.

"Well, don't stop while the dishes are hot, if they are," returned her mother.

Submit wiped obediently, but as soon as the dishes were set away, she stole out in the barn where her father and brothers were picking the turkey.

"Father, when are you going to weigh him?" she asked timidly.

"Not till to-night," said her father.

"Submit!" called her mother.

Submit went in and swept the kitchen floor. It was an hour after that, when her mother was in the south room, getting it ready for her grandparents, who were coming home to Thanksgiving—they had been on a visit to their youngest son—that Submit crept slyly into the pantry. The turkey lay there on the broad shelf before the window. Submit looked at him. She thought he was small. "He was 'most all feathers," she whispered, ruefully. She stood looking disconsolately at the turkey. Suddenly her eyes flashed and a red flush came over her face. It was as if Satan, coming into that godly new England home three days before Thanksgiving, had whispered in her ear.

Presently Submit stole softly back into the kitchen, set a chair before the chimney cupboard, climbed up, and got the pewter dish full of Revolutionary bullets. Then she stole back to the pantry and emptied the bullets into the turkey's crop. Then she got a needle and thread from her mother's basket, sewed up the crop carefully, and set the empty dish back in the cupboard. She had just stepped down out of the chair when her brother Jonas came in.

"Submit," said he, "let's have one game of odd or even with the bullets."

"I am too busy," said Submit. "I've got to spin my stint."

"Just one game. Mother won't care."

"No; I can't."

Submit flew to her spinning wheel in the corner. Jonas, still remonstrating, strolled into the pantry.

"I don't believe mother wants you in there," Submit said anxiously.

"See here, Submit," Jonas called out in an eager voice, "I'll get the steelyards, and we'll weigh the turkey. We can do it as well as anybody."

Submit left her spinning wheel. She was quite pale with trepidation when Jonas and she adjusted the turkey in the steelyards. What if those bullets should rattle out? But they did not.

"He weighs twenty pounds and a quarter," announced Jonas, with a gasp, after peering anxiously at the figures. "He's the biggest turkey that was ever raised in these parts."

Jonas exulted a great deal, but Submit did not say much. As soon as Jonas had laid the turkey back on the shelf and gone out, she watched her chance and removed the bullets, replacing them in the pewter dish.

When Mr. Thompson and Thomas came home at twilight there was a deal of talk over the turkey.

"The Adams' turkey doesn't weigh but nineteen pounds," Jonas announced. "Sarah was out there when they weighed him, and she 'most cried."

"I think Sarah and Submit and all of you are very foolish about it," said Mrs. Thompson severely. "What difference does it make if one weighs a pound or two more than the other, if there is enough to go round?"

"Submit looks as if she was sorry ours weighed the most now," said Jonas.

"My thumb aches," said Submit.

"Go and get the balm of Gilead bottle, and put some more on," ordered her mother.

That night when she went to bed she could not say her prayers. When she woke in the morning it was with a strange, terrified feeling, as if she had climbed a wall into some unknown dreadful land. She wondered if Sarah would bring Thankful over; she dreaded to see her coming, but she did not come. Submit herself did not stir out of the house all that day or the next, and Sarah did not bring Thankful until next morning.

They were all out in the kitchen about an hour before dinner. Grandfather Thompson sat in his old armchair at one corner of the fireplace, Grandmother Thompson was knitting, and Jonas and Submit were cracking butternuts. Submit was a little happier this morning. She thought Sarah would never bring Thankful, and so she had not done so much harm by cheating in the weight of the turkey.

There was a tug at the latch of the kitchen door; it was pushed open slowly and painfully, and Sarah entered with Thankful in her arms. She said not a word to anybody, but her little face was full of woe. She went straight to Submit, and laid Thankful in her lap; then she turned and fled with a great sob. The door slammed after her. All the Thompsons stopped and looked at Submit.

"Submit, what does this mean?" her father asked.

Submit looked at him, trembling.

"Speak," said he.

"Submit, mind your father," said Mrs. Thompson.

"What did she bring you the doll baby for?" asked Grandmother Thompson.

"Sarah—-was going to give me Thankful if—-our turkey weighed most, and I was going to—-give her my—-work-box if hers weighed most," said Submit jerkily. Her lips felt stiff.

Her father looked very sober and stern. He turned to his father. When Grandfather Thompson was at home, every one deferred to him. Even at eighty he was the recognized head of the house. He was a wonderful old man, tall and soldierly, and full of a grave dignity. He looked at Submit, and she shrank.

"Do you know," said he, "that you have been conducting yourself like unto the brawlers in the taverns and ale-houses?"

"Yes, sir," murmured Submit, although she did not know what he meant.

"No godly maid who heeds her elders will take part in any such foolish and sinful wager," her grandfather continued.

Submit arose, hugging Thankful convulsively. She glanced wildly at her great-grandmother's musket over the shelf. The same spirit that had aimed it at the Indian possessed her, and she spoke out quite clearly: "Our turkey didn't weigh the most," said she. "I put the Revolutionary bullets in his crop."

There was silence. Submit's heart beat so hard that Thankful quivered.

"Go upstairs to your chamber, Submit," said her mother, "and you need not come down to dinner. Jonas, take that doll and carry it over to the Adams' house."

Submit crept miserably out of the room, and Jonas carried Thankful across the yard to Sarah.

Submit crouched beside her little square window set with tiny panes of glass, and watched him. She did not cry. She was very miserable, but confession had awakened a salutary smart in her soul, like the balm of Gilead on her cut thumb. She was not so unhappy as she had been. She wondered if her father would whip her, and she made up her mind not to cry if he did.

After Jonas came back she still crouched at the window. Exactly opposite in the Adams' house was another little square window, and that lighted Sarah's chamber. All of a sudden Sarah's face appeared there. The two little girls stared pitifully at each other. Presently Sarah raised her window, and put a stick under it; then Submit did the same. They put their faces out, and looked at each other a minute before speaking. Sarah's face was streaming with tears.

"What you crying for?" called Submit softly.

"Father sent me up here 'cause it is sinful to—make bets, and Aunt Rose has come, and I can't have any—Thanksgiving dinner," wailed Sarah.

"I'm wickeder than you," said Submit. "I put the Revolutionary bullets in the turkey to make it weigh more than yours. Yours weighed the most. If mother thinks it's right, I'll give you the work-box."

"I don't—want it," sobbed Sarah. "I'm dreadful sorry you've got to stay up there, and can't have any dinner, Submit."

Answering tears sprang to Submit's eyes. "I'm dreadful sorry you've got to stay up there, and can't have any dinner," she sobbed back.

There was a touch on her shoulder. She looked around and there stood the grandmother. She was trying to look severe, but she was beaming kindly on her. Her fat, fair old face was as gentle as the mercy that tempers justice; her horn spectacles and her knitting needles and the gold beads on her neck all shone in the sunlight.

"You had better come downstairs, child," said she. "Dinner's 'most ready, and mebbe you can help your mother. Your father isn't going to whip you this time, because you told the truth about it, but you mustn't ever do such a dreadful wicked thing again."

"No, I won't," sobbed Submit. She looked across, and there beside Sarah's face in the window was another beautiful smiling one. It had pink cheeks and sweet black eyes and black curls, among which stood a high tortoise-shell comb.

"Oh, Submit!" Sarah called out, joyfully, "Aunt Rose says I can go down to dinner!"

"Grandmother says I can!" called back Submit.

The beautiful smiling face opposite leaned close to Sarah's for a minute.

"Oh, Submit!" cried Sarah, "Aunt Rose says she will make you a doll baby like Thankful, if your mother's willing!"

"I guess she'll be willing if she's a good girl," called Grandmother Thompson.

Submit looked across a second in speechless radiance. Then the faces vanished from the two little windows, and Submit and Sarah went down to their Thanksgiving dinners.

Thankful was featured as The Short Story of the Day on Fri, Nov 17, 2023

You may also enjoy Freeman's story, Ann Mary; Her Two Thanksgivings and our collection of Thanksgiving Stories


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