This yearly festival was always kept at Plumfield in the good old-fashioned way, and nothing was allowed to interfere with it. For days beforehand, the little girls helped Asia and Mrs. Jo in store-room and kitchen, making pies and puddings, sorting fruit, dusting dishes, and being very busy and immensely important. The boys hovered on the outskirts of the forbidden ground, sniffing the savory odors, peeping in at the mysterious performances, and occasionally being permitted to taste some delicacy in the process of preparation.
Something more than usual seemed to be on foot this year, for the girls were as busy up-stairs as down, so were the boys in school-room and barn, and a general air of bustle pervaded the house. There was a great hunting up of old ribbons and finery, much cutting and pasting of gold paper, and the most remarkable quantity of straw, gray cotton, flannel, and big black beads, used by Franz and Mrs. Jo. Ned hammered at strange machines in the workshop, Demi and Tommy went about murmuring to themselves as if learning something. A fearful racket was heard in Emil’s room at intervals, and peals of laughter from the nursery when Rob and Teddy were sent for and hidden from sight whole hours at a time. But the thing that puzzled Mr. Bhaer the most was what became of Rob’s big pumpkin. It had been borne in triumph to the kitchen, where a dozen golden-tinted pies soon after appeared. It would not have taken more than a quarter of the mammoth vegetable to make them, yet where was the rest? It disappeared, and Rob never seemed to care, only chuckled when it was mentioned, and told his father, “To wait and see,” for the fun of the whole thing was to surprise Father Bhaer at the end, and not let him know a bit about what was to happen.
He obediently shut eyes, ears, and mouth, and went about trying not to see what was in plain sight, not to hear the tell-tale sounds that filled the air, not to understand any of the perfectly transparent mysteries going on all about him. Being a German, he loved these simple domestic festivals, and encouraged them with all his heart, for they made home so pleasant that the boys did not care to go elsewhere for fun.
When at last the day came, the boys went off for a long walk, that they might have good appetites for dinner; as if they ever needed them! The girls remained at home to help set the table, and give last touches to various affairs which filled their busy little souls with anxiety. The school-room had been shut up since the night before, and Mr. Bhaer was forbidden to enter it on pain of a beating from Teddy, who guarded the door like a small dragon, though he was dying to tell about it, and nothing but his father’s heroic self-denial in not listening, kept him from betraying a grand secret.
“It’s all done, and it’s perfectly splendid,” cried Nan, coming out at last with an air of triumph.
“The -you know- goes beautifully, and Silas knows just what to do now,” added Daisy, skipping with delight at some unspeakable success.
“I’m blest if it ain’t the ‘cutest thing I ever see, them critters in particular,” said Silas, who had been let into the secret, went off laughing like a great boy.
“They are coming; I hear Emil roaring ‘Land lubbers lying down below,’ so we must run and dress,” cried Nan, and up-stairs they scampered in a great hurry.
The boys came trooping home with appetites that would have made the big turkey tremble, if it had not been past all fear. They also retired to dress; and for half-an-hour there was a washing, brushing, and prinking that would have done any tidy woman’s heart good to see. When the bell rang, a troop of fresh-faced lads with shiny hair, clean collars, and Sunday jackets on, filed into the dining-room, where Mrs. Jo, in her one black silk, with a knot of her favorite white chrysanthemums in her bosom, sat at the head of the table, “looking splendid,” as the boys said, whenever she got herself up. Daisy and Nan were as gay as a posy bed in their new winter dresses, with bright sashes and hair ribbons. Teddy was gorgeous to behold in a crimson merino blouse, and his best button boots, which absorbed and distracted him as much as Mr. Toot’s wristbands did on one occasion.
As Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer glanced at each other down the long table, with those rows of happy faces on either side, they had a little thanksgiving all to themselves, and without a word, for one heart said to the other,
“Our work has prospered, let us be grateful and go on.”
The clatter of knives and forks prevented much conversation for a few minutes, and Mary Ann with an amazing pink bow in her hair “flew round” briskly, handing plates and ladling out gravy. Nearly every one had contributed to the feast, so the dinner was a peculiarly interesting ones to the eaters of it, who beguiled the pauses by remarks on their own productions.
“If these are not good potatoes I never saw any,” observed Jack, as he received his fourth big mealy one.
“Some of my herbs are in the stuffing of the turkey, that’s why it’s so nice,” said Nan, taking a mouthful with intense satisfaction.
“My ducks are prime any way; Asia said she never cooked such fat ones,” added Tommy.
“Well, our carrots are beautiful, ain’t they, and our parsnips will be ever so good when we dig them,” put in Dick, and Dolly murmured his assent from behind the bone he was picking.
“I helped make the pies with my pumpkin,” called out Robby, with a laugh which he stopped by retiring into his mug.
“I picked some of the apples that the cider is made of,” said Demi.
“I raked the cranberries for the sauce,” cried Nat.
“I got the nuts,” added Dan, and so it went on all round the table.
“Who made up Thanksgiving?” asked Rob, for being lately promoted to jacket and trousers he felt a new and manly interest in the institutions of his country.
“See who can answer that question,” and Mr. Bhaer nodded to one or two of his best history boys.
“I know,” said Demi, “the Pilgrims made it.”
“What for?” asked Rob, without waiting to learn who the Pilgrims were.
“I forget,” and Demi subsided.
“I believe it was because they were starved once, and so when they had a good harvest, they said, ‘We will thank God for it,’ and they had a day and called it Thanksgiving,” said Dan, who liked the story of the brave men who suffered so nobly for their faith.
“Good! I didn’t think you would remember any thing but natural history,” and Mr. Bhaer tapped gently on the table as applause for his pupil.
Dan looked pleased; and Mrs. Jo said to her son, “Now do you understand about it, Robby?”
“No, I don’t. I thought pil-grins were a sort of big bird that lived on rocks, and I saw pictures of them in Demi’s book.”
“He means penguins. Oh, isn’t he a little goosey!” and Demi laid back in his chair and laughed aloud.
“Don’t laugh at him, but tell him all about it if you can,” said Mrs. Bhaer, consoling Rob with more cranberry sauce for the general smile that went round the table at his mistake.
“Well, I will;” and, after a pause to collect his ideas, Demi delivered the following sketch of the Pilgrim Fathers, which would have made even those grave gentlemen smile if they could have heard it.
“You see, Rob, some of the people in England didn’t like the king, or something, so they got into ships and sailed away to this country. It was all full of Indians, and bears, and wild creatures, and they lived in forts, and had a dreadful time.”
“The bears?” asked Robby, with interest.
“No; the Pilgrims, because the Indians troubled them. They hadn’t enough to eat, and they went to church with guns, and ever so many died, and they got out of the ships on a rock, and it’s called Plymouth Rock, and Aunt Jo saw it and touched it. The Pilgrims killed all the Indians, and got rich; and hung the witches, and were very good; and some of the greatest great-grandpas came in the ships. One was the Mayflower; and they made Thanksgiving, and we have it always, and I like it. Some more turkey, please.”
“I think Demi will be an historian, there is such order and clearness in his account of events;” and Uncle Fritz’s eyes laughed at Aunt Jo, as he helped the descendant of the Pilgrims to his third bit of turkey.
“I thought you must eat as much as ever you could on Thanksgiving. But Franz says you mustn’t even then;” and Stuffy looked as if he had received bad news.
“Franz is right, so mind your knife and fork, and be moderate, or else you won’t be able to help in the surprise by and by,” said Mrs. Jo.
“I’ll be careful; but everybody does eat lots, and I like it better than being moderate,” said Stuffy, who leaned to the popular belief that Thanksgiving must be kept by coming as near apoplexy as possible, and escaping with merely a fit of indigestion or a headache.
“Now, my ‘pilgrims’ amuse yourselves quietly till tea-time, for you will have enough excitement this evening,” said Mrs. Jo, as they rose from the table after a protracted sitting, finished by drinking every one’s health in cider.
“I think I will take the whole flock for a drive, it is so pleasant; then you can rest, my dear, or you will be worn out this evening,” added Mr. Bhaer; and as soon as coats and hats could be put on, the great omnibus was packed full, and away they went for a long gay drive, leaving Mrs. Jo to rest and finish sundry small affairs in peace.
An early and light tea was followed by more brushing of hair and washing of hands; then the flock waited impatiently for the company to come. Only the family was expected; for these small revels were strictly domestic, and such being the case, sorrow was not allowed to sadden the present festival. All came; Mr. and Mrs. March, with Aunt Meg, so sweet and lovely, in spite of her black dress and the little widow’s cap that encircled her tranquil face. Uncle Teddy and Aunt Amy, with the Princess looking more fairy-like than ever, in a sky-blue gown, and a great bouquet of hot-house flowers, which she divided among the boys, sticking one in each button-hole, making them feel peculiarly elegant and festive. One strange face appeared, and Uncle Teddy led the unknown gentleman up to the Bhaers, saying-
“This is Mr. Hyde; he has been inquiring about Dan, and I ventured to bring him to-night, that he might see how much the boy has improved.”
The Bhaers received him cordially, for Dan’s sake, pleased that the lad had been remembered. But, after a few minutes’ chat, they were glad to know Mr. Hyde for his own sake, so genial, simple, and interesting was he. It was pleasant to see the boy’s face light up when he caught sight of his friend; pleasanter still to see Mr. Hyde’s surprise and satisfaction in Dan’s improved manners and appearance, and pleasantest of all to watch the two sit talking in a corner, forgetting the differences of age, culture, and position, in the one subject which interested both, as man and boy compared notes, and told the story of their summer life.
“The performance must begin soon, or the actors will go to sleep,” said Mrs. Jo, when the first greetings were over.
So every one went into the school-room, and took seats before a curtain made of two bed-covers. The children had already vanished; but stifled laughter, and funny little exclamations from behind the curtain, betrayed their whereabouts. The entertainment began with a spirited exhibition of gymnastics, led by Franz. The six elder lads, in blue trousers and red shirts, made a fine display of muscle with dumb-bells, clubs, and weights, keeping time to the music of the piano, played by Mrs. Jo behind the scenes. Dan was so energetic in this exercise, that there was some danger of his knocking down his neighbors, like so many nine-pins, or sending his bean-bags whizzing among the audience; for he was excited by Mr. Hyde’s presence, and a burning desire to do honor to his teachers.
“A fine, strong lad. If I go on my trip to South America, in a year or two, I shall be tempted to ask you to lend him to me, Mr. Bhaer,” said Mr. Hyde, whose interest in Dan was much increased by the report he had just heard of him.
“You shall have him, and welcome, though we shall miss our young Hercules very much. It would do him a world of good, and I am sure he would serve his friend faithfully.”
Dan heard both question and answer, and his heart leaped with joy at the thought of travelling in a new country with Mr. Hyde, and swelled with gratitude for the kindly commendation which rewarded his efforts to be all these friends desired to see him.
After the gymnastics, Demi and Tommy spoke the old school dialogue, “Money makes the mare go.” Demi did very well, but Tommy was capital as the old farmer; for he imitated Silas in a way that convulsed the audience, and caused Silas himself to laugh so hard that Asia had to slap him on the back, as they stood in the hall enjoying the fun immensely.
Then Emil, who had got his breath by this time, gave them a sea-song in costume, with a great deal about “stormy winds,” “lee shores,” and a rousing chorus of “Luff, boys, luff,” which made the room ring; after which Ned performed a funny Chinese dance, and hopped about like a large frog in a pagoda hat. As this was the only public exhibition ever held at Plumfield, a few exercises in lightning-arithmetic, spelling, and reading were given. Jack quite amazed the public by his rapid calculations on the blackboard. Tommy won in the spelling match, and Demi read a little French fable so well that Uncle Teddy was charmed.
“Where are the other children?” asked every one as the curtain fell, and none of the little ones appeared.
“Oh, that is the surprise. It’s so lovely, I pity you because you don’t know it,” said Demi, who had gone to get his mother’s kiss, and stayed by her to explain the mystery when it should be revealed.
Goldilocks had been carried off by Aunt Jo, to the great amazement of her papa, who quite outdid Mr. Bhaer in acting wonder, suspense, and wild impatience to know “what was going to happen.”