Turkey, and How It Came by Louisa M. Alcott
"I know we could n't do it."
"I say we could, if we all helped."
"How can we?"
"I've planned lots of ways; only you mustn't
laugh at them, and you must n't say a word to
mother. I want it to be all a surprise."
"She 'll find us out."
"No, she won't, if we tell her we won't get
"Fire away, then, and let's hear your fine plans."
"We must talk softly, or we shall wake father.
He's got a headache."
A curious change came over the faces of the
two boys as their sister lowered her voice, with
a nod toward a half-opened door. They looked
sad and ashamed, and Kitty sighed as she
spoke, for all knew that father's headaches
always began by his coming home stupid or
cross, with only a part of his wages; and mother
always cried when she thought they did not see
her, and after the long sleep father looked as
if he did n't like to meet their eyes, but went
They knew what it meant, but never spoke of
it,--only pondered over it, and mourned with
mother at the change which was slowly altering
their kind industrious father into a moody
man, and mother into an anxious over-worked
Kitty was thirteen, and a very capable girl,
who helped with the housekeeping, took care
of the two little ones, and went to school.
Tommy and Sammy looked up to her and
thought her a remarkably good sister. Now,
as they sat round the stove having "a go-to-bed
warm," the three heads were close together;
and the boys listened eagerly to Kitty's plans,
while the rattle of the sewing-machine in
another room went on as tirelessly as it had done
all day, for mother's work was more and more
needed every month.
"Well!" began Kitty, in an impressive tone,
"we all know that there won't be a bit of Christmas
in this family if we don't make it. Mother's
too busy, and father don't care, so we must see
what we can do; for I should be mortified to
death to go to school and say I had n't had any
turkey or plum-pudding. Don't expect
presents; but we must have some kind of a decent
"So I say; I'm tired of fish and potatoes,"
said Sammy, the younger.
"But where's the dinner coming from?"
asked Tommy, who had already taken some of
the cares of life on his young shoulders, and
knew that Christmas dinners did not walk into
people's houses without money.
"We 'll earn it;" and Kitty looked like a
small Napoleon planning the passage of the
Alps. "You, Tom, must go early to-morrow
to Mr. Brisket and offer to carry baskets. He
will be dreadfully busy, and want you, I know;
and you are so strong you can lug as much as
some of the big fellows. He pays well, and if
he won't give much money, you can take your
wages in things to eat. We want everything."
"What shall I do?" cried Sammy, while
Tom sat turning this plan over in his mind.
"Take the old shovel and clear sidewalks.
The snow came on purpose to help you."
"It's awful hard work, and the shovel's half
gone," began Sammy, who preferred to spend
his holiday coasting on an old tea-tray.
"Don't growl, or you won't get any dinner,"
said Tom, making up his mind to lug baskets
for the good of the family, like a manly lad as
"I," continued Kitty, "have taken the hardest
part of all; for after my work is done, and the
babies safely settled, I 'm going to beg for the
leavings of the holly and pine swept out of
the church down below, and make some wreaths
and sell them."
"If you can," put in Tommy, who had tried
pencils, and failed to make a fortune.
"Not in the street?" cried Sam, looking alarmed.
"Yes, at the corner of the Park. I 'm bound
to make some money, and don't see any other
way. I shall put on an old hood and shawl,
and no one will know me. Don't care if they
do." And Kitty tried to mean what she said,
but in her heart she felt that it would be a trial
to her pride if any of her schoolmates should
happen to recognize her.
"Don't believe you 'll do it."
"See if I don't; for I will have a good dinner
one day in the year."
"Well, it does n't seem right for us to do it.
Father ought to take care of us, and we only
buy some presents with the little bit we earn.
He never gives us anything now." And
Tommy scowled at the bedroom door, with a
strong sense of injury struggling with affection
in his boyish heart.
"Hush!" cried Kitty. "Don't blame him.
Mother says we never must forget he's our
father. I try not to; but when she cries, it's
hard to feel as I ought." And a sob made the
little girl stop short as she poked the fire to
hide the trouble in the face that should have
been all smiles.
For a moment the room was very still, as the
snow beat on the window, and the fire-light
flickered over the six shabby little boots put
up on the stove hearth to dry.
Tommy's cheerful voice broke the silence,
saying stoutly, "Well, if I 've got to work all
day, I guess I 'll go to bed early. Don't fret,
Kit. We 'll help all we can, and have a good
time; see if we don't."
"I 'll go out real early, and shovel like fury.
Maybe I 'll get a dollar. Would that buy a
turkey?" asked Sammy, with the air of a
"No, dear; one big enough for us would
cost two, I 'm afraid. Perhaps we 'll have one
sent us. We belong to the church, though
folks don't know how poor we are now, and we
can't beg." And Kitty bustled about, clearing
up, rather exercised in her mind about going
and asking for the much-desired fowl.
Soon all three were fast asleep, and nothing
but the whir of the machine broke the quiet
that fell upon the house. Then from the inner
room a man came and sat over the fire with his
head in his hands and his eyes fixed on the
ragged little boots left to dry. He had heard the
children's talk; and his heart was very heavy
as he looked about the shabby room that used
to be so neat and pleasant. What he thought no
one knows, what he did we shall see by-and-by;
but the sorrow and shame and tender silence
of his children worked a miracle that night
more lasting and lovely than the white beauty
which the snow wrought upon the sleeping city.
Bright and early the boys were away to their
work; while Kitty sang as she dressed the little
sisters, put the house in order, and made her
mother smile at the mysterious hints she gave
of something splendid which was going to
happen. Father was gone, and though all
rather dreaded evening, nothing was said; but
each worked with a will, feeling that Christmas
should be merry in spite of poverty and care.
All day Tommy lugged fat turkeys, roasts of
beef, and every sort of vegetable for other
people's good dinners on the morrow,
wondering meanwhile where his own was coming from.
Mr. Brisket had an army of boys trudging here
and there, and was too busy to notice any
particular lad till the hurry was over, and only a
few belated buyers remained to be served. It
was late; but the stores kept open, and though
so tired he could hardly stand, brave Tommy
held on when the other boys left, hoping to
earn a trifle more by extra work. He sat down
on a barrel to rest during a leisure moment,
and presently his weary head nodded sideways
into a basket of cranberries, where he slept
quietly till the sound of gruff voices roused him.
It was Mr. Brisket scolding because one
dinner had been forgotten.
"I told that rascal Beals to be sure and carry
it, for the old gentleman will be in a rage if
it does n't come, and take away his custom.
Every boy gone, and I can't leave the store,
nor you either, Pat, with all the clearing up
"Here's a by, sir, slapin illigant forninst the
cranberries, bad luck to him!" answered Pat,
with a shake that set poor Tom on his legs,
wide awake at once.
"Good luck to him, you mean. Here,
What's-your-name, you take this basket to that number,
and I 'll make it worth your while," said
Mr. Brisket, much relieved by this unexpected help.
"All right, sir;" and Tommy trudged off as
briskly as his tired legs would let him, cheering
the long cold walk with visions of the turkey
with which his employer might reward him, for
there were piles of them, and Pat was to have
one for his family.
His brilliant dreams were disappointed,
however, for Mr. Brisket naturally supposed Tom's
father would attend to that part of the dinner,
and generously heaped a basket with vegetables,
rosy apples, and a quart of cranberries.
"There, if you ain't too tired, you can take
one more load to that number, and a merry
Christmas to you!" said the stout man,
handing over his gift with the promised dollar.
"Thank you, sir; good-night," answered
Tom, shouldering his last load with a grateful
smile, and trying not to look longingly at the
poultry; for he had set his heart on at least a
skinny bird as a surprise to Kit.
Sammy's adventures that day had been more
varied and his efforts more successful, as we
shall see, in the end, for Sammy was a most
engaging little fellow, and no one could look
into his blue eyes without wanting to pat his
curly yellow head with one hand while the other
gave him something. The cares of life had not
lessened his confidence in people; and only the
most abandoned ruffians had the heart to
deceive or disappoint him. His very tribulations
usually led to something pleasant, and whatever
happened, sunshiny Sam came right side up,
lucky and laughing.
Undaunted by the drifts or the cold wind, he
marched off with the remains of the old shovel
to seek his fortune, and found it at the third
house where he called. The first two sidewalks
were easy jobs; and he pocketed his ninepences
with a growing conviction that this was his
chosen work. The third sidewalk was a fine
long one, for the house stood on the corner, and
two pavements must be cleared.
"It ought to be fifty cents; but perhaps they
won't give me so much, I'm such a young one.
I'll show 'em I can work, though, like a man;"
and Sammy rang the bell with the energy of a
Before the bell could be answered, a big boy
rushed up, exclaiming roughly, "Get out of
this! I'm going to have the job. You can't
do it. Start, now, or I'll chuck you into a snow-bank."
"I won't!" answered Sammy, indignant at
the brutal tone and unjust claim. "I got here
first, and it's my job. You let me alone. I
ain't afraid of you or your snow-banks either."
The big boy wasted no time in words, for
steps were heard inside, but after a brief scuffle
hauled Sammy, fighting bravely all the way,
down the steps, and tumbled him into a deep
drift. Then he ran up the steps, and respectfully
asked for the job when a neat maid opened
the door. He would have got it if Sam had
not roared out, as he floundered in the drift,
"I came first. He knocked me down 'cause
I 'm the smallest. Please let me do it; please!"
Before another word could be said, a little old
lady appeared in the hall, trying to look stern,
and failing entirely, because she was the picture
of a dear fat, cosey grandma.
"Send that bad big boy away, Maria, and
call in the poor little fellow. I saw the whole
thing, and he shall have the job if he can do it."
The bully slunk away, and Sammy came
panting up the steps, white with snow, a great
bruise on his forehead, and a beaming smile on
his face, looking so like a jolly little Santa Claus
who had taken a "header" out of his sleigh
that the maid laughed, and the old lady
exclaimed, "Bless the boy! he's dreadfully hurt,
and does n't know it. Come in and be brushed
and get your breath, child, and tell me how
that scamp came to treat you so."
Nothing loath to be comforted, Sammy told
his little tale while Maria dusted him off on the
mat, and the old lady hovered in the doorway
of the dining-room, where a nice breakfast
smoked and smelled so deliciously that the boy
sniffed the odor of coffee and buckwheats like
a hungry hound.
"He 'll get his death if he goes to work till
he's dried a bit. Put him over the register,
Maria, and I 'll give him a hot drink, for it's
bitter cold, poor dear!"
Away trotted the kind old lady, and in a
minute came back with coffee and cakes, on
which Sammy feasted as he warmed his toes
and told Kitty's plans for Christmas, led on by
the old lady's questions, and quite unconscious
that he was letting all sorts of cats out of the bag.
Mrs. Bryant understood the little story, and
made her plans also, for the rosy-faced boy was
very like a little grandson who died last year,
and her sad old heart was very tender to
all other small boys. So she found out where
Sammy lived, and nodded and smiled at him
most cheerily as he tugged stoutly away at the
snow on the long pavements till all was done,
and the little workman came for his wages.
A bright silver dollar and a pocketful of
gingerbread sent him off a rich and happy boy to
shovel and sweep till noon, when he proudly
showed his earnings at home, and feasted the
babies on the carefully hoarded cake, for Dilly
and Dot were the idols of the household.
"Now, Sammy dear, I want you to take my
place here this afternoon, for mother will have
to take her work home by-and-by, and I must
sell my wreaths. I only got enough green for
six, and two bunches of holly; but if I can sell
them for ten or twelve cents apiece, I shall be
glad. Girls never can earn as much money as
boys somehow," sighed Kitty, surveying the
thin wreaths tied up with carpet ravellings, and
vainly puzzling her young wits over a sad problem.
"I 'll give you some of my money if you
don't get a dollar; then we'll be even. Men
always take care of women, you know, and
ought to," cried Sammy, setting a fine example
to his father, if he had only been there to profit
With thanks Kitty left him to rest on the
old sofa, while the happy babies swarmed over
him; and putting on the shabby hood and
shawl, she slipped away to stand at the Park
gate, modestly offering her little wares to the
passers-by. A nice old gentleman bought two,
and his wife scolded him for getting such bad
ones; but the money gave more happiness than
any other he spent that day. A child took a
ten-cent bunch of holly with its red berries,
and there Kitty's market ended. It was very
cold, people were in a hurry, bolder hucksters
pressed before the timid little girl, and the
balloon man told her to "clear out."
Hoping for better luck, she tried several
other places; but the short afternoon was soon
over, the streets began to thin, the keen wind
chilled her to the bone, and her heart was very
heavy to think that in all the rich, merry
city, where Christmas gifts passed her in every
hand, there were none for the dear babies and
boys at home, and the Christmas dinner was a failure.
"I must go and get supper anyway; and I 'll
hang these up in our own rooms, as I can't sell
them," said Kitty, wiping a very big tear from
her cold cheek, and turning to go away.
A smaller, shabbier girl than herself stood
near, looking at the bunch of holly with wistful
eyes; and glad to do to others as she wished
some one would do to her, Kitty offered the
only thing she had to give, saying kindly, "You
may have it; merry Christmas!" and ran away
before the delighted child could thank her.
I am very sure that one of the spirits who
fly about at this season of the year saw the
little act, made a note of it, and in about fifteen
minutes rewarded Kitty for her sweet remembrance
of the golden rule.
As she went sadly homeward she looked up
at some of the big houses where every window
shone with the festivities of Christmas Eve, and
more than one tear fell, for the little girl found
life pretty hard just then.
"There don't seem to be any wreaths at these
windows; perhaps they 'd buy mine. I can't
bear to go home with so little for my share,"
she said, stopping before one of the biggest and
brightest of these fairy palaces, where the
sound of music was heard, and many little
heads peeped from behind the curtains as if
watching for some one.
Kitty was just going up the steps to make
another trial, when two small boys came racing
round the corner, slipped on the icy pavement,
and both went down with a crash that would
have broken older bones. One was up in a
minute, laughing; the other lay squirming and
howling, "Oh, my knee! my knee!" till Kitty
ran and picked him up with the motherly
consolations she had learned to give.
"It's broken; I know it is," wailed the small
sufferer as Kitty carried him up the steps, while
his friend wildly rang the doorbell.
It was like going into fairy-land, for the house
was all astir with a children's Christmas party.
Servants flew about with smiling faces; open
doors gave ravishing glimpses of a feast in one
room and a splendid tree in another; while a
crowd of little faces peered over the balusters
in the hall above, eager to come down and
enjoy the glories prepared for them.
A pretty young girl came to meet Kitty, and
listened to her story of the accident, which
proved to be less severe than it at first
appeared; for Bertie, the injured party, forgot
his anguish at sight of the tree, and hopped
upstairs so nimbly that every one laughed.
"He said his leg was broken, but I guess
he's all right," said Kitty, reluctantly turning
from this happy scene to go out into the night
"Would you like to see our tree before the
children come down?" asked the pretty girl,
seeing the wistful look in the child's eyes, and
the shine of half-dried tears on her cheek.
"Oh, yes; I never saw anything so lovely.
I 'd like to tell the babies all about it;" and
Kitty's face beamed at the prospect, as if the
kind words had melted all the frost away.
"How many babies are there?" asked the
pretty girl, as she led the way into the brilliant
room. Kitty told her, adding several other
facts, for the friendly atmosphere seemed to
make them friends at once.
"I will buy the wreaths, for we have n't any,"
said the girl in silk, as Kitty told how she was
just coming to offer them when the boys fell.
It was pretty to see how carefully the little
hostess laid away the shabby garlands and
slipped a half-dollar into Kitty's hand; prettier
still, to watch the sly way in which she tucked
some bonbons, a red ball, a blue whip, two
china dolls, two pairs of little mittens, and some
gilded nuts into an empty box for "the babies;"
and prettiest of all, to see the smiles and tears
make April in Kitty's face as she tried to tell
her thanks for this beautiful surprise.
The world was all right when she got into the
street again and ran home with the precious
box hugged close, feeling that at last she had
something to make a merry Christmas of.
Shrieks of joy greeted her, for Sammy's nice
old lady had sent a basket full of pies, nuts and
raisins, oranges and cake, and--oh, happy
Sammy!--a sled, all for love of the blue eyes
that twinkled so merrily when he told her about
the tea-tray. Piled upon this red car of triumph,
Dilly and Dot were being dragged about, while
the other treasures were set forth on the table.
"I must show mine," cried Kitty; "we 'll
look at them to-night, and have them
to-morrow;" and amid more cries of rapture her box
was unpacked, her money added to the pile in
the middle of the table, where Sammy had laid
his handsome contribution toward the turkey.
Before the story of the splendid tree was
over, in came Tommy with his substantial
offering and his hard-earned dollar.
"I 'm afraid I ought to keep my money for
shoes. I 've walked the soles off these to-day,
and can't go to school barefooted," he said,
bravely trying to put the temptation of skates
"We 've got a good dinner without a turkey,
and perhaps we 'd better not get it," added
Kitty, with a sigh, as she surveyed the table, and
remembered the blue knit hood marked seventy-five
cents that she saw in a shop-window.
"Oh, we must have a turkey! we worked so
hard for it, and it's so Christmasy," cried Sam,
who always felt that pleasant things ought to
"Must have turty," echoed the babies, as
they eyed the dolls tenderly.
"You shall have a turkey, and there he is,"
said an unexpected voice, as a noble bird fell
upon the table, and lay there kicking up his
legs as if enjoying the surprise immensely.
It was father's voice, and there stood father,
neither cross nor stupid, but looking as he used
to look, kind and happy, and beside him was
mother, smiling as they had not seen her smile
for months. It was not because the work was
well paid for, and more promised, but because
she had received a gift that made the world
bright, a home happy again,--father's promise
to drink no more.
"I 've been working to-day as well as you,
and you may keep your money for yourselves.
There are shoes for all; and never again, please
God, shall my children be ashamed of me, or
want a dinner Christmas Day."
As father said this with a choke in his voice,
and mother's head went down on his shoulder
to hide the happy tears that wet her cheeks,
the children did n't know whether to laugh or
cry, till Kitty, with the instinct of a loving heart,
settled the question by saying, as she held out
her hands, "We have n't any tree, so let's
dance around our goodies and be merry."
Then the tired feet in the old shoes forgot
their weariness, and five happy little souls
skipped gayly round the table, where, in the
midst of all the treasures earned and given,
father's Christmas turkey proudly lay in state.