A Thanksgiving Dinner That Flew Away
by H. Butterworth
I spun around like a top, looking nervously
in every direction. I was familiar with that sound - I
had heard it before, during two summer vacations, at the
old farm-house on the Cape.
It had been a terror to me. I always put a door, a fence,
or a stone wall between me and that sound as speedily as
I had just come down from the city to the Cape for my
third summer vacation. I had left the cars with my arms
full of bundles, and hurried toward Aunt Targood's.
The cottage stood in from the road. There was a long meadow
in front of it. In the meadow were two great oaks and some
clusters of lilacs. An old, mossy stone wall protected
the grounds from the road, and a long walk ran from the
old wooden gate to the door.
It was a sunny day, and my heart was
light. The orioles were flaming in the old orchards - the
bobolinks were tossing themselves about in the long meadows
of timothy, daisies, and patches of clover. There was a
scent of new-mown hay in the air.
In the distance lay the bay, calm and resplendent, with
white sails and specks of boats. Beyond it rose Martha's
Vineyard, green and cool and bowery, and at its wharf lay
I was, as I said, light-hearted. I was thinking of rides
over the sandy roads at the close of the long, bright days -
of excursions on the bay - of clam-bakes and picnics.
I was hungry - and before me rose visions of Aunt Targood's
fish dinners, roast chickens, berry pies. I was thirsty -
but ahead was the old well-sweep, and, behind the cool
lattice of the dairy window, were pans of milk in abundance.
I tripped on toward the door with light feet, lugging
my bundles and beaded with perspiration, but unmindful
of all discomforts in the thought of the bright days and
good things in store for me.
My heart gave a bound!
Where did that sound come from?
Out of a cool cluster of innocent-looking lilac bushes,
I saw a dark object cautiously moving. It seemed to have
no head. I knew, however, that it had a head. I had seen
it - it had seized me once on the previous summer, and I
had been in terror of it during all the rest of the season.
I looked down into the irregular grass, and saw the head
and a very long neck running along on the ground, propelled
by the dark body, like a snake running away from a ball.
It was coming toward me, and faster and faster as it approached.
I dropped all my bundles.
In a few flying leaps I returned to the road again, and
armed myself with a stick from a pile of cord-wood.
"Honk! honk! honk!"
It was a call of triumph. The head was high in the air
now. My enemy moved grandly forward, as became the monarch
of the great meadow farm-yard.
I stood with beating heart, after my retreat.
It was Aunt Targood's gander.
How he enjoyed his triumph, and how small and cowardly
he made me feel!
"Honk! honk! honk!"
The geese came out of the lilac
bushes, bowing their heads to him in admiration. Then
came the goslings—a long
procession of awkward, half-feathered things: they appeared
The gander seemed to be telling
his admiring audience all about it: how a strange girl
with many bundles had attempted to cross the yard - how
he had driven her back, and had captured her bundles,
and now was monarch of the field. He clapped his wings
when he had finished his heroic story, and sent forth
such a "honk!" as might
have startled a major-general.
Then he, with an air of great dignity and coolness, began
to examine my baggage.
Among my effects were several pounds of chocolate caramels,
done up in brown paper. Aunt Targood liked caramels, and
I had brought her a large supply.
He tore off the wrappers quickly. Bit one. It was good.
He began to distribute the bon-bons among the geese, and
they, with much liberality and good-will, among the goslings.
This was too much. I ventured through the gate swinging
my cord-wood stick.
He dropped his head on the ground, and drove it down the
walk in a lively waddle toward me.
It was Aunt Targood's voice at the door.
He stopped immediately.
His head was in the air again.
Out came Aunt Targood with her broom.
She always corrected the gander
with her broom. If I were to be whipped I should choose
a broom—not the stick.
As soon as he beheld the broom he retired, although with
much offended pride and dignity, to the lilac bushes - and
the geese and goslings followed him.
"Hester, you dear child,
come here. I was expecting you, and had been looking
out for you, but missed sight of you. I had forgotten
all about the gander."
We gathered up the bundles and the caramels. I was light-hearted
How cool was the sitting-room, with the woodbine falling
about the open windows! Aunt brought me a pitcher of milk
and some strawberries - some bread and honey - and a fan.
While I was resting and taking my lunch, I could hear
the gander discussing the affairs of the farm-yard with
the geese. I did not greatly enjoy the discussion. His
tone of voice was very proud, and he did not seem to be
speaking well of me. I was suspicious that he did not think
me a very brave girl. A young person likes to be spoken
well of, even by the gander.
Aunt Targood's gander had been
the terror of many well-meaning people, and of some evildoers,
for many years. I have seen tramps and pack-peddlers
enter the gate, and start on toward the door, when there
would sound that ringing warning like a war-blast. "Honk, honk!" and in a few minutes
these unwelcome people would be gone. Farm-house boarders
from the city would sometimes enter the yard, thinking
to draw water by the old well-sweep: in a few minutes it
was customary to hear shrieks, and to see women and children
flying over the walls, followed by air-rending "honks!" and
jubilant cackles from the victorious gander and his admiring
"Aunt, what makes you keep that gander, year after
year?" said I, one evening, as we were sitting on
the lawn before the door. "Is it because he is a kind
of a watch-dog, and keeps troublesome people away?"
"No, child, no - I do not wish to keep most people
away, not well-behaved people, nor to distress nor annoy
any one. The fact is, there is a story about that gander
that I do not like to speak of to every one—something
that makes me feel tender toward him - so that if he needs
a whipping, I would rather do it. He knows something that
no one else knows. I could not have him killed or sent
away. You have heard me speak of Nathaniel, my oldest boy?"
"That is his picture in my room, you know. He was
a good boy to me. He loved his mother. I loved Nathaniel—you
cannot think how much I loved Nathaniel. It was on my account
that he went away.
"The farm did not produce enough for us all: Nathaniel,
John, and I. We worked hard and had a hard time. One year—that
was ten years ago—we were sued for our taxes.
"'Nathaniel,' said I, 'I
will go to taking boarders.'
"Then he looked up to me
and said (oh, how noble and handsome he appeared to me!):
"'Mother, I will go to sea.'
"'Where?' asked I, in surprise.
"'In a coaster.'
"I turned white. How I felt!
"'You and John can manage the place,' he continued.
'One of the vessels sails next week—Uncle Aaron's -
he offers to take me.'
"It seemed best, and he
made preparations to go.
"The spring before, Skipper Ben—you have met
Skipper Ben—had given me some goose eggs - he had
brought them from Canada, and said that they were wild-goose
"I set them under hens.
In four weeks I had three goslings. I took them into
the house at first, but afterward made a pen for them
out in the yard. I brought them up myself, and one of
those goslings is that gander.
"Skipper Ben came over to
see me, the day before Nathaniel was to sail. Aaron came
"I said to Aaron:
"'What can I give to Nathaniel
to carry to sea with him to make him think of home? Cake,
preserves, apples? I haven't got much - I have done all
I can for him, poor boy.'
"Brother looked at me curiously,
"'Give him one of those
wild geese, and we will fatten it on shipboard and will
have it for our Thanksgiving dinner.'
"What brother Aaron said
pleased me. The young gander was a noble bird, the handsomest
of the lot - and I resolved to keep the geese to kill
for my own use and to give him to Nathaniel.
"The next morning—it was late in September—I
took leave of Nathaniel. I tried to be calm and cheerful
and hopeful. I watched him as he went down the walk with
the gander struggling under his arms. A stranger would
have laughed, but I did not feel like laughing - it was
true that the boys who went coasting were usually gone
but a few months and came home hardy and happy. But when
poverty compels a mother and son to part, after they have
been true to each other, and shared their feelings in common,
it seems hard, it seems hard—though I do not like
to murmur or complain at anything allotted to me.
"I saw him go over the hill.
On the top he stopped and held up the gander. He disappeared -
yes, my own Nathaniel disappeared. I think of him now
as one who disappeared.
was a terrible month on the coast that year. Storm followed
storm - the sea-faring people talked constantly of wrecks
and losses. I could not sleep on the nights of those
high winds. I used to lie awake thinking over all the
happy hours I had lived with Nathaniel.
"Thanksgiving week came.
"It was full of an Indian-summer
brightness after the long storms. The nights were frosty,
bright, and calm.
"I could sleep on those
"One morning, I thought I heard a strange sound in
the woodland pasture. It was like a wild goose. I listened -
it was repeated. I was lying in bed. I started up—I
thought I had been dreaming.
"On the night before Thanksgiving
I went to bed early, being very tired. The moon was full -
the air was calm and still. I was thinking of Nathaniel,
and I wondered if he would indeed have the gander for
his Thanksgiving dinner: if it would be cooked as well
as I would have cooked it, and if he would think of me
"I was just going to sleep,
when suddenly I heard a sound that made me start up and
hold my breath.
"I thought it was a dream
followed by a nervous shock.
"There it was again, in
the yard. I was surely awake and in my senses.
"I heard the geese cackle.
"'Honk! honk! honk!'
"I got out of bed and lifted
the curtain. It was almost as light as day. Instead of
two geese there were three. Had one of the neighbors'
geese stolen away?
"I should have thought so, and should not have felt
disturbed, but for the reason that none of the neighbors'
geese had that peculiar call—that hornlike tone that
I had noticed in mine.
"I went out of the door.
"The third goose looked
like the very gander I had given Nathaniel. Could it
"I did not sleep. I rose
early and went to the crib for some corn.
"It was a gander—a 'wild' gander—that
had come in the night. He seemed to know me.
"I trembled all over as
though I had seen a ghost. I was so faint that I sat
down on the meal-chest.
"As I was in that place, a bill pecked against the
door. The door opened. The strange gander came hobbling
over the crib-stone and went to the corn-bin. He stopped
there, looked at me, and gave a sort of glad "honk," as
though he knew me and was glad to see me.
"I was certain that he was
the gander I had raised, and that Nathaniel had lifted
into the air when he gave me his last recognition from
the top of the hill.
"It overcame me. It was Thanksgiving. The church
bell would soon be ringing as on Sunday. And here was Nathaniel's
Thanksgiving dinner - and brother Aaron's—had it flown
away? Where was the vessel?
"Years have passed—ten. You know I waited and
waited for my boy to come back. December grew dark with
its rainy seas - the snows fell - May lighted up the hills,
but the vessel never came back. Nathaniel—my Nathaniel—never
"That gander knows something he could tell me if
he could talk. Birds have memories. He remembered the corn-crib—he
remembered something else. I wish he could talk, poor bird!
I wish he could talk. I will never sell him, nor kill him,
nor have him abused. He knows!"