Tomorrow is Thanksgiving! In honor of the day, we’re sharing one of Isabella’s short stories from an 1884 issue of The Pansy magazine.
This charming story is about friendship, first impressions, and Thanksgiving blessings.
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It began in the summer. It was when they were coming home from the closing exercises of the summer school, Harold Fisher and his cousin Lelia Fisher.
They did not belong to the school, these two; in fact, they lived in Boston; but they were in the country for the summer, and I don’t know that there was any place which Lelia at least, enjoyed more than she did the queer little country schoolhouse, painted red, having wooden seats from which all the paint was worn, and an odd-looking thing in the middle of the room which the children called a box stove. It was a thing of beauty all summer, for it blossomed out in ferns, and vines, and bright red berries, and Lelia thought it was “just lovely,” and that nothing in Boston could compare with it.
Well, they were coming home from the closing entertainment, where both Lelia and Harold had delighted the scholars by each giving a recitation; and Harold had a treasure grasped in his fat hand which had been given by the teacher; and in Lelia’s blue silk bag was another, a lovely card for herself, and as Lelia thought of it, and of all the happy days she had spent there, and of the fact that in a few weeks she must go back to Boston and perhaps never see the nice old red schoolhouse again, her face was sad, and she drew a long sigh and wished in her heart that all schoolhouses were red, and had lovely box stoves in the middle of them, and a great old tree in front of them, and that Miss Rebecca Smith was the only teacher there was in the world, and she was always to go to her school. Poor little Lelia; the country and the schoolhouse, and Miss Smith, had stolen her heart.
Harold was not at all sad; he had had a good time, and he expected to have many another. He did not take in the fact that he would probably never sit on the low seat beside Miss Smith in the old red schoolhouse again. The days stretched before him, full of daily coming pleasures. He troubled himself not one whit about the future.
It was just at that moment that they met Thankful Hall. Not that they knew who she was, but she looked so queer to Harold’s city eyes, that he would stop and stare at her, though Lelia tried to pull him along.
She was a neat-looking little girl, with a fair face and pleasant eyes, but her pink calico dress, made to touch the tops of her strong little shoes, and her long-sleeved apron, was so entirely unlike anything that Harold had ever seen that he could not help staring at her. The little girls who went to the red school-house were dressed enough like Boston little girls for Harold not to notice much difference; though Lelia, with older eyes, saw a great deal.
But this little girl, though neither Lelia nor Harold knew it, was dressed after the fashion of the children of fifty years ago. No wonder Harold stared; not much could be seen of the little woman’s face, for it was hidden behind a strange-looking stiff brown gingham something, which neither of the children knew was a sun-bonnet.
“What is your name?” burst forth Harold at last, making the roses grow on Lelia’s cheeks.
The little girl smiled and answered pleasantly, “I am Thankful Hall.” And she made a neat little curtsy to Lelia, who had never seen the like before.
“Thankful!” repeated puzzled Harold. “What makes you thankful? I want to know what your name is!”
“It is that—Thankful.”
“Truly?” asked Harold, his great brown eyes seeming to grow larger.
The little girl laughed.
“Why, yes,” she said; “I wouldn’t have told you so if it hadn’t been.”
“What a queer name! Does your mama call you that? What makes her? It makes me think of Thanksgiving and turkey.”
Then both the little girls laughed merrily, though Lelia blushed a great deal.
“Oh, Harold!” she said, then to Thankful: “Do excuse him; he is such a queer boy! No one ever can think what he is going to say next.”
But what Harold said next was quite as embarrassing. “What makes you wear such a queer hat, and such a funny dress? Do you have turkey, and pumpkin pies, and lots of things at your house for Thanksgiving, and do you be thankful for them?”
Lelia tried to put her hand over the small mouth; but the busy little tongue rushed through this series of questions, and Thankful did not seem to care; she only laughed.
“I’m thankful all the time, whatever we have, because that’s my name,” she said brightly; “but we don’t have turkeys at Thanksgiving, because they cost so much.”
“Don’t have turkey! Then how can you have Thanksgiving?” asked puzzled Harold. Then both little girls broke into laughter, long and merry.
There was more talk, and it ended in this way: “I like you. I want you to come to my house for Thanksgiving, and turkey, and lots of things; to my house way down in Boston. Will you?”
“I will if I can,” said Thankful, and then she said she must hurry, for Aunt Patience would be waiting.
They talked about Thankful all the way home, and after they reached home.
“And mama,” said Lelia, “I did not know what to do with Harold, he would ask such queer questions, but Thankful did not seem to mind it; she was real nice.”
“She is a nice child,” said motherly Mrs. Freeman, who boarded the Boston party that summer. “They have only been here a little while. She lives with her aunt, Miss Patience Hall. A nice woman as ever lived, but land, she doesn’t know any more about a child than I do about an elephant, nor half so much. She dresses that little thing queer enough to make her a laughing stock. Actually puts on her some of the clothes she used to wear herself; and she is sixty if she is a day. Why, yes, she’s poor, to be sure, but calico don’t cost mud, and the little thing ought to look enough like other people not to be a show. I just feel sorry for the time when she will begin to go to school; I’m afraid the children will tease her so. She’s an orphan, poor thing. She has lived with her grandmother until this spring, and then she came to this aunt’s to live. She seems real nice and pretty behaved. I’m sorry for her. Oh, Miss Patience is good enough, but hard; as hard as the shell of this squash,” and good Mrs. Freeman applied her axe to it, and Lelia and her mother went away laughing.
It was but three days before Thanksgiving that Mrs. Freeman took a look in the oven at her pumpkin pies, then seated herself to read a letter; a dainty square-enveloped thing with a Boston stamp.
Such letters rarely fell into Mrs. Freeman’s hands; she was curious.
“Such a singular request to make,” so the letter ran, “but, my dear friend, I know your kind motherly heart will help us if you can. The truth is, our dear little Harold has been sick for four weeks! For a few days he lay at death’s door, and we thought there was no hope whatever. You can imagine what that time was to us! He is gaining rapidly now—is able to be about the house, and is looking forward to Thanksgiving, but he has one great sorrow, his little cousin Lelia who has always been with him at Thanksgiving time, has gone abroad with her parents, and he misses her so that it makes our hearts ache for him. Yesterday, some talk about the pleasant summer that we had in your home recalled to his mind that queer little “Thankful” in whom you remember he was so interested. He exclaimed suddenly that he asked her to come to his house in Boston for Thanksgiving; and since that moment he has talked of nothing else. He even dreamed of the child last night. Now, dear Mrs. Freeman, he has been so sick, and is so lonely without his cousin, and is so determined about this thing, that I haven’t the heart not to try to gratify him. I have promised that I will write to you to see if you cannot borrow the little girl for a few days. We will take the best of care of her, and return her safely in due time, if the aunt will only kindly lend her to our little boy for Thanksgiving. He says he promised her turkey, and lots of things.”
There was more to the letter, as to how little Thankful could be sent, if the aunt would lend her, and how they would arrange for her perfect safety and comfort.
Mrs. Freeman read through to the end, then took off her spectacles and talked to the pumpkin pies. “Well, now, I never! Did anybody ever hear the like? I know they didn’t! To think of not believing in Providence! Josiah, look here! There’s that poor Miss Patience not been three weeks in her grave, and she so troubled about Thankful that she couldn’t hardly die, and here comes an invitation for her, to go to Boston; and I shouldn’t wonder a mite if they kept her a month; for that Harold is a master hand to take a notion and stick to it.”
Well, Thankful went to Boston. She was expressed there; and the carriage met her at the depot; and Harold met her at the parlor, where his nose had been flattened against the glass half the afternoon waiting for her.
How quaint, and queer, and pretty she looked! Mrs. Freeman’s heart and home had taken her in for a time, until they could look about them and see what to do; for no relatives had little Thankful left this side Heaven and Miss Patience, you will remember, had been poor; but there were a few hundred dollars in the bank that she had saved for Thankful. Mrs. Freeman had not touched the money, and had not been able to make any changes in Thankful’s dress, beyond a smart little hat like other children for her to travel to Boston in; so Thankful with her long brown hair braided neatly, and her long brown stuff dress reaching to her toes, and her speck of a white ruffle round her neck, looked for all the world as though she had stepped from one of the old-fashioned picture frames in Grandma Fisher’s room.
And the Thanksgiving dinner was eaten. Such a wonderful dinner as Thankful had never dreamed of before, and Harold asked her, with wistful face, if she were not thankful now? And she smiled and said, oh, she was; he did not know how thankful she was.
And Mrs. Fisher thought she ought to have some Thanksgiving presents, she was such a sweet little thing. So a bright dress, made exactly after the pattern of Lelia’s, was bought her, and some kid boots, because her shoes were rather heavy for the Boston house; and the days passed and the visit was not yet finished. And the time came when Harold cried whenever anybody hinted that Thankful would have to go home. And she was so sweet and quiet and helpful that Mrs. Fisher said, one day, she thought that child was well named, for everybody in the house seemed thankful to have her around.
And the days passed, and then the months; not only Thanksgiving, but Christmas, and New Year’s, and the travelers came home, and in Lelia’s trunk was found so many clothes that she had outgrown which just fitted Thankful, that the two mothers said it really would be economy to have one a little smaller in the families to wear those things out. And Lelia coaxed to have Thankful go to school with her; it was so lonesome to go alone. And the spring opened, and there was Thankful still in Boston.
And the summer came, and they went, all of them, back to Mrs. Freeman’s, and roamed in the woods, and went to the little red school-house, and trimmed the box stove. One morning, Mrs. Fisher said, kissing her:
“Thankful, my child, you really need a new dress to travel in, for we would almost as soon think of going home and leaving our little boy behind as you. You are our Thankful, and we are thankful for you.”