Historical Article (1888)
THANKSGIVING FOR TWO
By Olive E. Dana
Good Housekeeping. November 24, 1888. pp. 32-34.
There is not, in all New England, a prettier bit of country than is traversed by the Old Hill road, which leads from Starboro to Old Hill Town, lately shortened to Hillton. Starboro is a manufacturing town. It has grown, within a decade, to a population of many thousands. It has whirring mills, paved and crowded streets, the telegraph and the telephone, mail carriers, and a city charter. As you ride away from it over the Old Hill road from the south side of the town, in almost the only direction that is not threaded by gas pipes and telephone wires and hose car lines, you turn back for last glimpses of the mills, whose red brick constrasts so well against the green of its elms; its gray stone cottages, its multiplying steeples, its many bridges across the winding river. But the road winds, too, and the hills grow steeper, and the murmer of the river grows fainter beneath you as you ride on; though there is many an interval where broad, green meadows lie, many a stretch of level field and forest. Many a nook too, where cozy old cottages nestle, with guardian oaks in front; many a wind-swept hight [sic] or breezy plateau whee wide farmhouses stand four-square to strong, health-laden winds. Old Hill Town—for the inhabitants for the most part, scorn the newer name, and cling to the old, significant one— looks down with well-bred tolerance on its young neighbor town, with its bustle and its building, and its yet unclassified "society." Though be it said, it does not scorn the increasing revenues its sons and daughters bring from these noisy factories and the stores and shops they have called into being. It has itself taken on a new prosperity, and felt the quicker current of life therefrom, in its staid banks and slow and sober markets.
And real estate in Old Hill Town has advanced many per cent, during these few years of Starboro's growth, though descending the ancestral lines, nowhere more closely kept than here, its farms are for the most part uncleft, its long-tilled acres following their old-time divisions in all its lovely outlying districts. And within the dear old village the same white and yellow houses stand at the same angles and are separated by the same distances along the wide, still streets.
It was at the corner of one of the widest and shadiest streets, just as you enter Hill Town, that on a mild, sunny day in early November, a young man with a resolute, kind face, a clear, bright glance, and a look as of one somehow used to facing toil and difficulty stood, tying a horse to the quaint stone post. His companion during the ride from Starboro, whom he had just assisted to alight from the carriage, stood by waiting. He must have been more than thirty, she a little younger. She, too, despite her indication of womanly refinement, and the ladyhood that was patent from the tie of her bonnet to the tip of her boot, had the look and bearing of one who had made her own way, and that not an easy one.
"Are you sure you brought the key, George?" she asked as they turned into the wide, still grassy yard in front of a squarely-built, straw-colored house, where quaint gables and ancient carvings proved that it had been built more than a half century. For answer he unlocked the great front door.
"It isn't the key, but one I had. I don't know why Wylde doesn't send the keys. There's quite a bunch for inside and out. I must call and get them, and the deed, to-night."
They had stepped now into the square, old-fashioned hall. Out of it opened heavily paneled doors into large, many-windowed rooms, on the right and left.
"Isn't it old-fashioned and home-like and dear?" said the girl delightedly, as she passed on the threshold of one of the rooms. ["]Just as I knew it would be. I remember the outside, when I was a child. George, it seems too good to be true, that it should be yours-"
"Ours, you mean," he interpolated.
"Ours then," she amended, flushing. "No, yours and going to be ours. Such a home as we couldn't get may be in a lifetime. Any house for a home to grow in would be a great deal to us, but this is so good! I can't make it real!"
"But it is," he answered, trying to speak lightly. ["]See these mantel-pieces of the old, dark marble; and the floors of solid hard wood all of them. We needn't have carpets everywhere. And the doors almost thick enough to stand a siege!"
"How well our bric-a-brac will look on these mantels! And I've some old curtains that will make such lovely draperies for these long, wide windows, and the window-seats I'll cushion. And some old dimity that's just the thing for the gables. My dear old things will fit it beautifully and harmonize better than the finest new.
"This must be our dining-room. The side-board is here already. Only you must put some drawers beneath.
"I'll take the measurements now," he answered, "but I want you to see this kitchen. Look out for the dust, I'm going to open the brick oven."
"Ah! [T]his is the pleasantest room in the house with its windows South and East. Here's where I'll sit down when dinner is ready, and it's time for you. How near the bank looks, and how very, very good it all is!"
And she sat down, opposite him in the window seat, while he rejoined:
"Do you remember, dear, how a year ago, you tried to cheer me, one day when things were more deeply, darkly blue than common? You said there would be a way. Our home would come to us, or we to it, in time, in God's time, you said, if we but worked and waited and hoped meanwhile."
"I remember," she answered, smiling, and brushed the tears away. "And it was so, wasn't it?"
"Yes, and it seems a good token to begin life with, Beth. Your simple faith, your instinct of faith, was so much truer, so much more nearly with God's purpose for us than all my plans and calculations. I shall remember it."
"What Thanksgivings we shall keep here, Beth!" he went on more gayly. "And when shall I be ordering the turkey for the first one? Turkey for two it is!"
"Thanksgiving for two, and I mean to have that oven swept out and heated to cook our Thanksgiving dinner," she said, going nearer to inspect it again...
Their's had been a long engagement. George Kinnard had been a clerk in a large hardware store. Elizabeth During was a teacher in one of the public schools. Neither had father or mother, brother or sister; but he had his father's debts to pay, and she had been bound in gratitude to aid out of her salary the aunt who had befriended her in her orphaned girlhood, till her young cousins could come forward as breadwinners in their turn. And when they were released from these obligations, lo! four years of their engagement had gone by, and the home they were planning for seemed as far off and as unattainable as ever.
Six months before the story opens, George had been appointed to a responsible and lucrative position in the Hill Town Bank, and a little later, another joy had come to them in the shape of this house, the legacy of his uncle, Enoch Kinnard. As they agreed, nothing more auspicious could have befallen them. Beth had the furniture that had belonged to her parents, both of whom were of Old Town families. To this they had added bits of newer furnishing, and for months Beth had been preparing daintily hemmed bed linen, stores of snowy, glossy napery, scores of strong towels that it was fun to hem of evenings, long, soft, coarse dish-wipers, already bleached and softened, and the stout, knitted dishcloths that her fingers were aching to use. What tender thoughts, what hopes and dreams were inwoven with the stitches! What memories of her childhood clustered around every one of her treasured pieces of mahogany and cherry wood, her silver and china! And what memories would be making, by-and-by in these old rooms! But the shadows were gathering now in the corners, and reluctantly they turned to go.
"Oh! there are some samples of cards in my pocket I meant to show you. We shall want to send our announcement and our 'at home's' of course," he said, as they drove away. "But you can look at them now."
While Beth leaned back in the carriage and mused over wedding cards, he bethought himself of a letter he had taken from the office just before they started, and he drew it from his pocket and opened it. His exclamation roused Beth from her reverie.
"What is it?" she asked, startled.
He laid the letter in her hands, and she read only eight lines, formally worded; but they stated that the house and land supposed to have been held, without incumbrance, by the late Enoch Kinnard, and by him willed to his nephew, George Kinnard, was found to be heavily mortgaged; and the mortgagee by foreclosure, had taken the property, so that it was now in legal possession of said mortgagee, Judge During, of HIlton. Beth was the first to speak.
"Well," she said, speaking hurriedly to shake the tremble out of her voice, "you won't have to order the turkey, George, and the mince-meat can wait, and we needn't hurry about the moving. The turkey will have time to grow, and the pumpkins to ripen. Our Thanksgiving isn't for this year." And then they tried to laugh, but Beth caught her breath in a sob instead.
The sun shone right radiantly next morning over Old Hill. The red roofs gathered new warmth of color from the sunshine; the while the white houses stood out plainly among the leafless trees; and the smoke from the great chimneys made straight and slender columns of gray in the cool, still air. The sunbeams peeped in curiously between the old shutters left yesterday ajar, of the house in the corner; playing upon the antique carvings of the wainscoting in hall and sitting-room, and lying in broader bands upon the kitchen floor.
Just across the wide clear square, this same sunshine lay in warm bars of scarlet and gold upon the delicate carpet of the breakfast room in Judge During's stately home. The Judge and his wife, for there were only they two left there now, sat at breakfast. A fire crackled on the hearth, and the glow from the flames played with the glancing sunbeams upon the gleaming coffee-urn, along the heavy gilt frames of the family portraits on the walls, and across the bindings of the books that filled the low cases on three sides of the room. Breakfast was always a cheerful meal there, indeed, most meals were cheerful. "It heartened one amazingly," one of their old friends said, just to sit at table there. The judge himself was as enlivening as the crackling fire, with an intermittent glow and merriment not unlike its own. And the fair, gentle woman opposite him, with so serene and earnest a kindliness in her deep blue eyes, reminded you of nothing so much as the sunlight she delighted in.
They were lingering over their coffee, when the Starboro stage stopped a moment at the gate, a light step crossed the piazza, and straightway with a brisk little knock to announce her coming, a brisk woman entered.
"Ah! Miss Molly, what brings you out so early? You look younger than ever, with your red cheeks and bright eyes. Perhaps that what you set out for," began the Judge teasingly.
But she paid little heed to him.
"You'll excuse me, Mrs. During, for coming in upon you so, but I've found I can come for a few days anyway if you want me. I expected to be busy over to Starboro till Thanksgiving time. I was doing some wedding things, but the wedding's put off; something happened at the last minute."
"I'm very glad to get you, Miss Marvin," answered Mrs. During. "And I'm all ready too, save some little things I can get the Judge to order."
"Yes, I came early on purpose," said the dressmaker. "You see," she went on confidentially, for the Judge had taken his newspaper, and was apparently absorbed in its contents, "you see, I was at work for Elizabeth During, over to Starboro. She's engaged to George Kinnard, he's in Hill Town Bank now. And they was going to be married this Thanksgiving time, and a-coming out here to live. Enoch Kinnard, you know, George's uncle, left him the old Stratton place on the corner here; and they was a-fixing up round and going to send their goods over this very day. They'd lotted on eating their Thanksgiving dinner there, had everything planned and all. And yesterday he had a letter. And it turns out the place don't belong to them after all, but to somebody else that's held a big mortgage on it!"
"How hard for them!"
"Ain't it? Beth, she boards to her cousin's, Bashie Kerlis. Bashie's a particular friend of mine, has been since we was girls together. So I know all about it. I knew she'd been a-getting ready this long time, had her sheets done, and even her towels and dish-cloths made. And last night she came right round and told me, thinking of course I'd want to be working for some one else. Beth's a real nice girl!"
"She is a far-away cousin of ours, or of my husband's, though we knew her very little."
"She'd ha' been neighbor to ye, wouldn't she? And now I'm going right upstairs and open the sewin'-room blinds, and touch off the fire. No, you needn't sent Martha, I kin do it."
The clock counted out eight silvery chimes from its carven case, and the Judge rose hastily.
"I hold that mortgage, Amy, though I didn't know who it was thought he owned it. I would have given him a chance, though 'twould have been a poor one, really, for the place isn't worth more than the face of the mortgage"
Mrs. During looked up wistfully, and their eyes met. But neither spoke and in a moment more he had gone. But she sighed and her eyes had a soft cloud over their sunniness as she went upstairs to Miss Marvin. She was not surprised, however, to hear his key in the lock at lunch time. "I forgot your memorandum," was his excuse for this appearance. "Why didn't you remind me?"
"I'll go make it now," volunteered Miss Marvin. "You won't be likely to go off without your dinner, and mine can wait a bit. I'll be back before you're through."
"Amy," said the Judge, after she had left the room, and they were alone, "Arthur During, in my young days, helped me more than any other person. I shouldn't be where I am, and what I am, but for him. And I never repaid him. I should like to turn the service over now to his daughter!"
"Why not?" and her eyes were shining.
"Well, for one thing, I couldn't buy that fine place at the Shore that we looked at, you know."
"Who cares about that? I don't, and I don't believe you do either!"
"The European trip might have to wait, though I don't think it. We wanted to join Helen in the spring, you know."
"That can wait, too, if need be. Helen won't come home for two years yet."
"And I was hoarding every dollar to endow Hill Town Intitute. It needs to be put on a sure and broader basis."
"John," and there was a brave little thrill of decision in Mrs. During's voice, "you know I have favored the Institute plan from the beginning. It will help so many of our young people to higher and broader lives. But I would certainly rather endow a home than a school!"
It had been a hard day in the school-room, a trying day at the bank. Beth was tired, George depressed. So they sat very soberly and silently in Miss Kerlis's back parlor, while she nodded over her knitting in the dining-room beyond. Beth's work was not her treasured napery, hemmed by hand, nor towels, nor curtains, nor dainty draperies; nor bits of her modest trousseau. She had put all these away, and, bent on economy, yea, bound to it more than ever, she realized, was turning last year's winter jacket for another year's service. Fortunately her resignation, though written, had not been handed in.
There was a ring at the door and Miss Bashie roused herself, and went to get the evening mail from the carrier.
"Letters for you, Bethie," she said returning, and Beth opened one with idle curiosity. The other was thicker, and addressed evidently in the same hand.
George, looking up a moment later, saw her grow white, and sprang to her side. By that time she was laughing and crying hysterically, saying when she could speak:
"It's our Thanksgiving given back to us! Read!"
You have guessed already the import of the letter. The legal document that accompanied it was a deed of gift conveying to Elizabeth During her "heirs and assigns forever," the estate known as the Stratton place, with all the appurtenances thereof. And Judge During's kind note accompanying it said it was the payment of a long-standing debt of gratitude to her father.
And so Miss Marvin was recalled and the wedding preparations went forward again more briskly and blithely because of the delay. And their joy seemed more really theirs, and a dearer and more wonderful possession, because of its seeming withdrawal, and its new bestowment.
November is a frowning, fearful, tearful month, more capricious than April itself, and stern and forbidding where April is tenderly mild. Yet the sun rarely refuses to smile upon our New England feast-day. He, too, must look in upon the gathered groups that keep this harvest feast.
And so on this Thanksgiving Day, the sunlight fell in blessing through the many-paned windows of the old dining-room of the corner house, where two sat together for the first time at their own table. In other years, in other days, their friends should be bidden, this day seemed for them alone in their thankfulness.
And across the square it flooded the long room where Judge During's guests were gathered, resting tenderly on his silvery head and on her yet golden hair. An Indian summer peace seemed to shine in their faces, and their answering eyes were full of happy memories. And perhaps the sweetest thought of all that gladdened them, was the remembrance that, through their bounty, in another home newly founded to-day, was kept the dear New England Thanksgiving.
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