Lizzy Griswold's Thanksgiving
“ So John a’n’t a-comin’, Miss Gris’ld,” squeaked Polly Mariner, entering the great kitchen, where Mrs. Griswold was paring apples and Lizzy straining squash.
“ Isn't he ? ” quietly replied the lady addressed, as the tailoress sat down in the flag-bottomed rocking-chair, and began rocking vehemently, all the time eyeing Lizzy from the depths of her poke-bonnet with patient scrutiny.
“ No, he a’n’t,- so Mr. Gris’ld says,” went on Polly. “ You see, I was a-comin’ up here from the Centre, so’s to see if Sam couldn’t wait for his roundabout till arter Thanksgivin’; for Keziah Perkins, she’t was my sister’s husband’s fust wife’s darter, ’n’ finally married sister’s fust husband’s son, she’s a real likely woman, and she’s wrote over from Taunton to ask me to go there to Thanksgivin’ ; 'n' to-day’s Monday; ’n’ I was acomin’ here Tuesday so’s to make Sam’s roundabout; ’n’ yesterday Miss Luken’s boy Simon, he’t a’n’t but three year old,
he got my press-board, when he was acrawlin’ round, 'n' laid it right onto the cookin’-stove, and fust thing Miss Lukens know’d it blazed right up, 'n' I can’t get another fixed afore Wednesday, and then I’d ought to be to Taunton, ’cause there a’n’t no stage runs Thursday, and there hadn’t oughter, of course ”-
“ We have got a press-board,” said Mrs. Griswold, quietly.
“ Yes, and I a’n’t goin’ to grandfather's in my old jacket, Miss Poll,” interposed Sam, one of the “terrible” children who are scattered here and there through this world. “ Catch me where all the folks are, in that old butternut suit! ” added Sam.
But here his father stepped in at the door, - a fine, sturdy, handsome farmer, one of New England’s model men, whose honesty was a proverb, and whose goodness a reliance to every creature in Greenfield.
“ John isn’t coming, wife,” said Mr. Griswold, in a steady, sober tone. “ He says business will delay him, so that he can only get to Coventry just as we do.”
“ So you had a letter,” said Mrs. Griswold, carefully avoiding a look at Lizzy.
“ Yes,” said Mr. Griswold, in a very abrupt way.-“ Are you ready to go bank, Miss Polly? for I’ve got to go down to the Centre again with a load of wheat.”
“ Well, yes, I don’t know but I be. I ken stay over, if you want help, Miss Gris’ld. I’m a-goin’ to the minister’s to help Miss Fletcher a little mite this afternoon, but I guess she don’t lot on it none; ’n’ seein’ it’s you, I ken stay, if you want help ”
Lizzy looked quickly across the kitchen at her mother.
“ Oh! no, thank you, Miss Polly, I know Mrs. Fletcher would feel very badly to lose your help, and I really don’t need it until to-morrow.”
“ Then I’ll come round to the door as quick as I’ve loaded up,” said Mr. Griswold ; and Miss Polly settled back in her chair to wait comfortably ; a process much intensified by a large piece of Mrs. Griswold’s gingerbread and a glass of new cider, both brought her by Lizzy’s hospitable hands,-readier even than usual just now, in the vain hope of stopping Polly Mariner's clattering tongue. But neither gingerbread nor cider was a specific to that end: Polly talked while she ate, and ate while she talked. But while she finishes her luncheon, let us make known to the patient reader whom and what the tailoress discusses.
John Boynton was a step-cousin of Lizzy Griswold’s. Her youngest aunt had married a widower, with one son, some five years older than Lizzy, and had always lived in the old homestead at Coventry, with her father; while the other daughters and sons, six in number, were scattered over the State, returning once a year, at Thanksgiving, to visit their birthplace, and bring their children into acquaintance with each other. Eben Griswold, who lived at Greenfield, was nearer home than any of the others, and Lizzy, consequently,
oftener at her grandfather’s house than her cousins. She and John Boynton were playmates from childhood, and it was not strange that John, who had never known a pleasure unshared by Lizzy, or suffered a pain without her consolation, should grow up in the idea that he could not possibly live without her, an idea also entertained half-consciously by Miss Lizzy, though neither of them ever yet had expressed it; for John was poor, and had no home to offer any woman, much less the petted child of a rich farmer. So Mr. Boynton, Jr., left home to teach school in Roxbury, five years before the date of our story, without making any confidences on the subject of his hopes and fears to Miss Griswold; and she knit him stockings and hemmed pocket-handkerchiefs for him with the most cold-blooded perseverance, and nobody but the yarn and the needles knew whether she dropped any tears on them or not.
Now it had always been John Boynton’s custom to give his school Thanksgiving-week as a vacation,-to take the train on Monday for Greenfield, and stay there till Wednesday, when the whole family set off together for Coventry, to spend the next day, according to timehonored precedent.
Whatever John and Lizzy did in those two dull November days, it never has been made known to the present chronicler; it is only understood that no pointblank love-making went on ; yet the days always ran away, instead of creeping; and neither of the twain could believe it was Wednesday when Wednesday came. But this year those forty-eight hours were destined to drag past, for John wasn’t coming ; why, we shall discover,-for Polly Mariner has finished the cider, and the gingerbread is as much subject of inquiry as “ The Indians.-where are they? ”
“ So John Boynton a’n’t a-comin’ ? Well! Hetty Maria Clapp’s jest got home from Bunkertown, that’s tew mile from Roxbury, ’n’ she told Miss Lucas that Miss Perrit, whose sister’s son keeps a grocer’s store to Roxbury, told that Mr. Boynton, their teacher to the ’Cademy, was waitin’ on Miss Roxany Sharp’s cousin, a dreadful pretty gal, who'd come down from Boston to see Roxany, an’ liked it so well she staid to Roxbury all through October. I do’no’s I should ha’ remembered it, only’t I hed the dredfullest jumpin' toothache that ever you did, ’n’ Miss Lucas, she’d jest come in to our house, an’ she run an’ got the lodlum an’ was a-puttin’ some on’t onto some cotton so’s to plug the hole, while she was tellin’; ’n’ I remember I forgot all about the jumpin’ while’t she was talkin’, so I ses, ses I, ‘Miss Lucas, I guess your talkin’s as good as lodlum’; ’n’ she bu’st out larfin’, ’n’ ses she, ‘ Polly Mariner, I declare for’t, you do beat all’ ‘ Well,’ Ses I, 'I’d die content, ef I could beat John Boynton; fur ef ever I see a feller payin’ attention to a gal, he's been payin' on’t, to Lizzy Gris’ld this four year; and ’ta’n’t no wonder 't I think hard on’t, for there never was a prettier-behaved gal than her on Greenfield Hill ’; an’ I ses ”-
Lizzy was on the point of “ freeing her mind ” just at this juncture, when Mrs. Griswold interposed her quiet voice,-
“ Don’t trouble yourself to defend Lizzy, Miss Mariner ; you know John Boynton is her cousin, and he has been here a good deal. Folks will talk, I suppose, always; but if John Boynton marries well, I don't think anybody ’ll be more forward to shake hands with him than our Lizzy.”
“ Of course I shall,” said the young lady, with a most indignant toss of her head. “ Pray, keep your pity, Miss Polly, for somebody else. I don’t need it.”
“ H'm,” sniffed the sagacious Polly. “ Well, I didn’t suppose you’d allow ’t you felt put out about it; and I wouldn’t, if I was you. Besides, there’s as good fish
in the sea asI declare for’t! there’s
Mr. Gris’ld ! I'll come round early tomorrer. Good-day, all on ye ! ”
So Polly departed.
“I don’t care, if he is!” said Lizzy, flinging herself down on the settle, when the door closed behind Polly’s blue cloak.
Mrs. Griswold said nothing, but Sam
looked up from his whittling, and coolly remarked,-
“It looks as if you did, though!”
“Sam!” said his mother, with - emphasis.
Sam whistled, and, with his hands in his pockets, having shut his jack-knife with a click, and kicked his shavings into the fire, muttered something about feeding the pigs, and beat an ignominious retreat,- snubbed, as the race of Adam daily are, and daily will be, let us hope, for telling “ the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
For Lizzy certainly did look as if she cared. A pretty enough picture she made, too, flung down on the old black settle, one well-shaped hand pinching the arm as if it had been-John Boynton’s !-the other as vigorously clenched on a harmless check-apron that showed no disposition to get away ; her bright red lips trembling a little, and her gray eyes suspiciously shiny about the lashes, while her soft black hair had fallen from part of its restraints on to the gay calico dress she wore, and her foot beat time to some quick step that she didn’t sing!
Mrs. Griswold did not care for the picturesque, just then ; she cared much more for Lizzy, and her acute feminine instinct helped her to the right word.
“I don’t believe it, dear!” said she; “ you’d better finish straining that squash, or Widow Peters won’t have her pies for Thursday.”
Lizzy went to work,-work is a grand panacea, even for sentimental troubles,- and in doing battle with the obstinate squash,-which was not as well cooked as it might have been,-Lizzy, for the moment, looked quite bright, and forgot John, till her father came in to dinner.
Somebody once said that Mrs. Griswold was “a lesser Providence,” and Lizzy thought so now ; for scarce were they all seated at dinner, when she remarked, in a very unconcerned and natural way,-
“ What keeps John in Roxbury so long, father ? ”
“ He has business in Boston,” curtly answered Mr. Griswold.-“ Sam, did you go over to the Corners, yesterday, about those sheep ? ”
Sam answered, and the conversation went on, but John’s name did not enter it, nor did Mr. Griswold offer to show his letter either to mother or Lizzy.
Now the latter lady, not being a perfect woman, had sundry small faults ; she was proud, after a certain fashion of her own ; slightly sentimental, which is rather a failing than a fault; but her worst trait was a brooding, fault-seeing, persevering tact at making herself miserable, scarce ever equalled. The smallest bit of vantage-ground was enough for a start, and on that foundation Lizzy took but a few hours of suspicion and imagination to build up a whole Castle Doubting. The cause she had to-day was even greater than was necessary; it was peculiar that her father should be so reserved; it was more strange that he so perseveringly withheld John’s letter; and certainly he watched Lizzy at her work with unusually tender eyes, that sometimes filled with a sort of mist. All these things heaped up evidence for the poor girl; she brooded over each separate item all night, and added to the sum Polly Mariner’s gossip, and looked forward to the day when everybody in Greenfield should say, “ Lizzy Griswold's had a disapp’intment of John Boynton ! ” Poor, dear, Lizzy ! as if that were an unheard-of pang! as if ninetenths of her accusers were not “ disapp'inted ” themselves,-some before, some after marriage,-some in themselves, some in their children, some in their wretched, dreary lives! But there was only one John and only one heart-break present to her vision.
Polly Mariner came to breakfast next day, and pervaded the kitchen like a daily paper. Horrible murders, barnburnings, failures, deaths, births, marriages, separations, lawsuits, slanders, and petty larcenies outran each other in her glib speech, and her fingers flew as fast on Sam’s blue jacket as her tongue clappered above it.
Lizzy’s pride kept her up before the old woman ; she was in and out and
everywhere, a pretty spot of crimson on either fair cheek, her eyes as sparkling and her step as light as any belle’s in a ballroom, and her whole manner so gay and charming that Polly inwardly pronounced John Boynton a mighty fool, if he dodged such a pretty girl as that, and one with “ means.”
But night came, and Polly went. Lizzy went to bed with a bad headache,- convenient synonyme for aches of soul or body that one does not care to christen! Sleep she certainly did that night, for she dreamed John was married to a rich Boston girl with red hair and a yellow flannel dress, and that Polly Mariner was bridesmaid in the peculiar costume of a blue roundabout and pantaloons ! But sleep with such dreams was scarcely a restorer ; and Wednesday morning, when Mrs. Griswold asked Lizzy if she had put up her carpet-bag to go to Coventry, she received for answer a flood of tears, and a very earnest petition to be left at home.
“ Leave you, Lizzy ! Why, grandfather couldn’t have Thanksgiving without you! And Uncle Boynton! And Aunt Lizzy is coming up from Stonington with the new baby ;-and-John, too ! You must go, Lizzy, dear ! ”
"I can’t, mother ! I can’t! ” said the poor girl, sobbing after every word; “ please don’t ask me. I can’t! I’ve got a headache ; oh, dear! ” Here a fresh burst of tears followed, as Lizzy buried her head in her mother’s lap.
Mrs. Griswold was both grieved and astonished; she sat speechless, stroking the soft hair that swept over her knee, till Lizzy's sobs quieted, and then said,-
“ Well, dear, if you're set on staying at home, I won’t oppose it, if your father thinks best; but I must ask him; only what will you do, Lizzy, here alone all night ? ”
“ Chloe and Peter will be here, mother; and I’ll make Chloe sleep in Sam’s room, and leave the door open ; and when they go down to Dinah’s, I’ll lock up, and I shan’t feel afraid in broad day.”
Mrs. Griswold shook her head doubtfully. “ I’ll see what father says,” said she. So Lizzy lifted her head, and smoothed her hair, while her mother went out to the barn to consult “ father.”
Here she was, if anything, more puzzled. Mr. Griswold heard the proposal with a rather misty look, as if he didn’t see why, and when his wife finished, said, gravely,-
“ What is it, Susan? Anybody’t has lived as long as I have knows pretty well that a woman’s headache stands for a whole dictionary.”
“ Why, you see,” said Mrs. Griswold, twisting a little lock of hay in her fingers, and faintly blushing, as if the question had been of herself rather than Lizzy, “ she-well, the fact is, husband, she’s kind of riled about John’s not coming ; you see we haven’t been real particular about the children, and so ”-
“ You needn’t spell it, Susan,” said Mr. Griswold, with a half smile; “ Polly Mariner’s tongue helped on, I guess. You let Lizzy stay, if she wants to; ’twon’t hurt her; when folks want to sulk, I generally let ’em. She can stay.”
He began to whistle “ Yankee Doodle ” and pitch hay energetically, while “ Susan ” was within hearing; but how would that dear woman’s soul have floundered deeper and deeper in the fog that clouded it now, had she seen her grave husband sit down on one end of the haymow and laugh till the tears stood in his keen eyes, and then, drawing his coatsleeve across the shaggy lashes, say to himself, “ Poor child ! ” and begin his work with fresh strength !
So matters were all arranged. After dinner, the rusty, dusty, old carriage appeared at the door, with the farm-horses harnessed thereto, jingling, and creaking, and snapping, as if oil and use were strange to its dry joints and stiff straps. Mrs. Griswold mounted to the back seat, after kissing Lizzy with hearty regret and tenderness, - her old gray pelisse and green winter bonnet harmonizing with the useful age of her conveyance. “ Father,” in a sturdy great-coat and buckskin mittens, took the reins; and
Sam, whose blue jacket was at that moment crushing his mother’s Sunday cap in a bandbox that sat where Lizzy should have been, clambered over the front wheel, to the great detriment of the despised butternut suit, and, seizing the whip, applied it so suddenly to Tom and Jerry that they started off down the Coventry road at a pace that threatened a solution of continuity to bones and sinews, as well as wood and leather.
Lizzy turned away sadly from the door. Who can say that just at that minute she did not wish she had gone, too ? But nobody heard her say so. She went up-stairs to her room, and tried to read, but couldn’t attach any ideas to the words; she was half an hour over a page of a very good book, and then flung it upon the bed with an expression of disgust, as if it were the book’s fault. Poor authors ! toil your fingers off, and spin your brains out! be as wise as Solomon, or witty as Sheridan ! your work is vanity and vexation of spirit, unless the reader’s brain choose to receive and vivify the hieroglyphs of your ideas; think yourselves successful because a great man praises you, and to-morrow that man is twisted with dyspepsia, or some woman passes him without a smile, and your sparkling sketch, your pathetic poem are declared trash ! Such is fame ! Of which little homily the moral is,- Write for money ! What a thing it is to be worldly-wise ! So was not Lizzy ; if she had been, she would now be at Coventry, kissed and caressed by grandfather, aunts, uncles, cousins, andBut we won’t anticipate.
Lizzy flung down the book, and went to her closet for another; but it was as good (or as bad) as Bluebeard’s closet, for there hung the pretty crimson merino, with delicate lace at the throat and round the short sleeves, in which Miss Lizzy Griswold once intended to electrify Mr. John Boynton this very evening. True it is that short sleeves are not the most sensible things for November; but Lizzy was twenty, and had such round, white arms, that she liked to wear short sleeves, as any girl would; and who is going to blame her ? Not I! A girl doesn’t know her privileges who was never just a little vain,-just a little glad to be pretty when John is by. Lizzy looked at the crimson merino, and at the smart slippers on the floor with a shining black bow on each instep. There, too, on a little low table, was a green box ; somebody had left it open,-mother, perhaps,-so she saw on its cotton bed a red coral bracelet, that came from Roxbury, or thereabout, last year at this time. Lizzy shut up the box, and went down-stairs to get tea.
Chloe was indignant to think “ Miss ’Lisbeth ” thought she couldn’t get supper without help, and Miss ’Lisbeth was vexed with Chloe for being cross. And then, when supper came, the tea seemed to be very unwilling to be swallowed, and the new bread was full of large lumps that choked a person, and the lamps didn’t burn clearly at all, - and -and - when Chloe, still sulky, had cleared the table, Lizzy sat down on a low cricket beside her mother’s stuffed rocking-chair, and had as good a cry as ever she had in her life, and felt much better for it.
So she sat there, with her head on the arm of the chair, rather tired with the cry, rather downhearted for want of the supper she hadn’t eaten, and making pictures in the fire, when all of a sudden it came into her head to wonder what they were doing at Coventry. There was grandfather, no doubt, in the keepingroom, telling his never-tiring stories of Little Robby, and Old Bose, and the Babes in the Wood; or singing the ever-new ditty of
“ Did you ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever,”-
and so on, ad in finitum, till you got to- “ See a man eat a whale? ” to some half dozen children ; while sweet Aunt Lizzy, serenely smiling, rocked the fair little baby that fifteen cousins had kissed for welcome that day ; and Uncle Boynton trotted the baby’s brother on his knee, inviting him persistently to go to
Boston and buy a penny-cake, greatly to little Eben’s aggravation, who would end, Lizzy knew, by crying for the cake, and being sent to bed. Then there were Sam, and Lucy Peters, and Jim Boynton, up to all sorts of mischief in the kitchen,-Susan Boynton and Nelly James cracking nuts and their fingers on the hearth,- father and mother up-stairs in grandmother’s room; for grandmother was bedridden, but kindly, and good, and humorous, and patient, even in her hopeless bed, and nobody was dearer to the whole family than she. Then, of course, there was a fire in the best parlor, and there were all the older cousins, telling conundrums and stories, and playing grownup games, and some two, or four, may-be, looking out in couples at the moonshine, from behind the curtains,-Sue James, perhaps, and John. Sue was so pretty !
Lizzy’s head bent lower on the arm of the chair ; her thoughts travelled back over a great many Thanksgivings,-years ago, when she wore short frocks, and used to go with John to see the turkeys fed, and be so scared when they gobbled and strutted with rage at her scarlet bombazette; -how they used to pick up frozen apples and thaw them in the dish-kettle how she pounded her thumb, cracking butternuts with a flat-iron, and John kissed it to make it well,-only it didn’t! And then how they slid down-hill before church, and sat a long two hours thereafter in the square pew, smelling of “ meetin’-seed,” and dinted with the kicks of weary boys in new boots ; and finally, after the first anthem and the two hymns and the three prayers and the long sermon were over, came home to dinner, where the children had their own table at the end of the grown people's board, and Lizzy always took the head and John the foot, - till, exhausted by the good things they had eaten, and tantalized by the good things they couldn’t eat, they crept away to the fire and their picture-books for a quiet hour, winding up the day with all the plays that country and city children alike delight in.
Then came recollections of later days, when John was a young man, and Lizzy sfill a little girl,-when long talks banished turkeys and apples and sliding,-when new books or sleigh-rides crowded out the old games,-when the two days of John’s yearly visit Were half-spent in the leafless, sunny woods, gathering mosses and acorn-cups, delicate fern-leaves, and clusters of fire-moss, and red winter-green berries, for the pretty frames and baskets Lizzy’s skilful fingers fabricated,-when he shook hands at coming and going, instead of kissing her;-but it seemed just the same, somehow. Dear me ! those days were all gone ! John didn’t care about her any more! he was in love with a beautiful Boston lady. Why should he care about a homely little country cousin ? He would go to live in Boston in a great big house, and he’d be a great man, and people would talk about him, and she should see his name in the papers, but he never would come to Coventry any more! And he’d acted as if he did love her, too ! - that was men’s way, - heartless things! If John had a good time, what did he care if Lizzy did grow into a grayhaired, puckered-up old maid, like Miss Case, with nobody to love her, or take care of her, or ask about her, or-or- kiss her ?-The climax was too much for Lizzy ; great big tears ran down on the arm of the stuffed chair, and she would have sobbed out. loud, only Chloe opened the door, to put up the tea-things, I suppose, and Lizzy wouldn’t cry before her. But, for all that, she. didn’t hear Cliloe come to the fireplace ; she only felt her sit down in the big chair, and, simultaneously, a pair of strong arms lifted Miss Lizzy on to John Boynton’s knee, and held her there. It wasn’t Chloe.
I declare, one gets out of patience with these men! they do astonish a person so sometimes, one doesn’t know what to do or say. Lizzy had been thinking to herself, not two minutes ago, with what cool and smiling reserve she should meet John Boynton, how dignified and kindly distant she would be to him,-and now,- well! it was so sudden,-and then, as I said before, these men do get round one
so,-if you happen to love them.-Lizzy forgot, I suppose; at any rate, she wasn’t dignified, or reserved, or proper, or anything of the kind, for she just hid her pretty head on his square shoulder, and said, “ Oh, John ! ”-“ slowly, and nothing more,”-as Mr. Tennyson remarks about cutting Iphigenia’s head off with a sharp knife.
I don’t know that John talked much, either. I rather think Lizzy got over the climax that had troubled her a little while ago. Presently, she raised her head and gathered up her hair that had fallen down, and became painfully aware that she had on only a blue calico! John never knew it; he knew somebody had a very sweet face, full of cloudy blushes and sunshiny smiles, and, not being a Pre-Raphaelite, the foreground was of no consequence to him.
So, after a time, Lizzy slipped down to her cricket again, still leaning on the arm -of the chair,-and John expounded to her the excellent reason that had delayed his coming home. He had been offered a large salary to take the head of a public school in Boston, and those two days had been devoted to arranging the affair; he had satisfied the school-committee as to his capacity, and made up his mind on several points of minor importance to them, - but, perhaps, greater to him. Among others, he had found a house, a tiny house, with a little yard behind, and a view of Boston Harbor from the upper windows, all at a reasonable rent, prospect thrown in ; this house he had hired, and now-he had come to Greenfield for a housekeeper.
Lizzy suddenly discovered that she was hungry, and invited John into the kitchen to get a piece of pie ; but, after all, instead of eating hers while he was eating his, she went up-stairs, brushed out her hair and coiled it up with a coral-topped comb, that came to light, very strangely, just in time, - put on her merino frock, her bracelet, and her slippers, - rolled herself up in shawls and hoods and mittens, and was lifted into John’s buggy, to old Chloe's great delight, who held the lamp, grinning like a lantern herself, and tucking “ Mr. John’s ” fox-skin round his feet, as if he had been ten years old.
So Lizzy Griswold did get to Coventry the night before Thanksgiving, after all; and when Uncle Boynton met her at the door, he called her “ my dear daughter.” Perhaps, as John had told Lizzy, on the drive over, that her father had heard all about his business and his intentions, in that letter she did not see, the young lady had decided to disinherit him, and adopt Uncle Boynton in his place ; rather an unfair proceeding, it is true, since the letter was withheld by John’s special request ; and, indeed, Lizzy didn’t act like a “ cruel parient ” to her father, when he came, after Uncle, to give her a welcome.
They had a merry time at Coventry that Thanksgiving,-even merrier than another smaller assemblage, that took
place at Greenfield about Christmas, when Polly Mariner came over a week beforehand to make Sam a new suit throughout, and Lizzy looked prettier than anybody ever did before, in a fresh white dress, and a white rose, off grandmother’s tea-rose-bush, in her hair. It is on record, that she behaved no better than she did that evening when somebody found her crying in a blue calico; for Sam was overheard to say, as Polly hustled him off to bed, that, “if ever he was married, he guessed they wouldn’t catch him makin' a fool of himself by kissin’ a girl right before the minister!-if he’d have been Lizzy, John Boynton’s ears would have sung for one while ; but girls were fools! ”
So John Boynton got a housekeeper; and Lizzy had more than one Thanksgiving-day in her life, beside the Governor’s appointments.