Valley Forge by Sarah J. Prichard
Tale of the American Revolution
Turkeys, little girl and apple-tree lived in Pennsylvania, a hundred
years ago. The turkeyseleven of themwent to bed in the apple-tree,
one night in December.
After it was dark, the little girl stood under the tree and peered
up through the boughs and began to count. She numbered them from one up
to eleven. Addressing the turkeys, she said: You're all up there, I
see, and if you only knew enough; if you weren't the dear, old, wise,
stupid things that you are, I'll tell you what you would do. After I'm
gone in the house, and the door is shut, and nobody here to see, you'd
get right down, and you'd fly off in a hurry to the deepest part of the
wood to spent your Thanksgiving, you would. The cold of the woods isn't
half as bad for you as the fire of the oven will be.
Becca finished her speech; the turkeys rustled in their feathers and
doubtless wondered what it all meant, while she stood thinking. One
poor fellow lost his balance and came fluttering down to the ground,
just as she had decided what to do. As soon as he was safely reset on
his perch, Becca made a second little speech to her audience, in which
she declared that they, the dear turkeys, were her own; that she had a
right to do with them just as she pleased, and that it was her good
pleasure that not one single one of the eleven should make a part of
anybody's Thanksgiving dinner.
Heigh-ho, whistles Jack, Becca's ten-year-old brother: that you,
Bec? High time you were in the house.
S'pose I frightened you, said Becca. Where have you been gone all
the afternoon, I'd like to know? stealin' home too, across lots.
I'll tell, if you won't let on a mite.
Do I ever, Jack? reproachfully.
He did not deign to answer, but in confidential whispers breathed it
into her ears that he had been down to the Forge. Down to the Valley
Forge, where General Washington was going to fetch down lots and lots
of soldiers, and build log huts, and stay all Winter. He ended his
breathless narration with an allusion that made Becca jump as though
she had seen a snake. He said: It will be bad for your turkeys.
Why, Jack? General Washington won't steal them.
Soldiers eat turkey whenever they can get it; and, Bec, this
apple-tree isn't above three miles from the Forge. You'd better have
'em all killed for Thanksgiving. Come, I'm hungry as a bear.
But, said Becca, grasping his jacket sleeve as they went, I've
just promised 'em that they shall not be touched.
Jack's laugh set every turkey into motion, until the tree was all in
a flutter of excitement. He laughed again and again, before he could
say What a little goose you are! Just as if turkeys understood a word
But I understood if they didn't, and I should be telling my own
self a lie. No, not a turkey shall die. They shall all have a real good
Thanksgiving once in their lives.
Two days later, on the 18th of December, Thanksgiving Day came, the
turkeys were yet alive, and Becca Blackstone was happy.
The next day General Washington's eleven thousand men marched into
Valley Forge, and went out upon the cold, bleak hillsides, carrying
with them almost three thousand poor fellows, too ill to march, too ill
to build log huts, ill enough to lie down and die. Such a busy time as
there was for days and days. Farmer Blackstone felt a little toryish in
his thoughts, but the chance to sell logs and split slabs so near home
as Valley Forge was not likely to happen again, and he worked away with
strong good will to furnish building material. Jack went every day to
the encampment, and grew quite learned in the ways of warlike men.
Becca staid at home with her mother, but secretly wished to see what
the great army looked like.
At last the final load of chestnut and walnut and oaken logs went up
to the hills from Mr. Blackstone's farm, and a great white snow fell
down over all Pennsylvania, covering the mountains and hills, the
soldiers' log huts, and the turkeys in the apple-tree. January came and
went, and every day affairs at the camp grew worse. Men were dying of
hunger and cold and disease. Stories of the sufferings of the men grew
strangely familiar to the inhabitants. Affairs that Winter would not
have been quite so hard at Valley Forge if the neighbors for miles
around had not been Tories. Now Becca Blackstone's mother was a New
England women, and in secret she bestowed many a comfort upon one after
another of her countrymen at the encampment. Her husband was willing to
sell logs and slabs and clay from his pits, but not a farthing or a
splinter of wood had he to bestow on the rebels.
At last, one January day, when Mr. Blackstone had gone to
Philadelphia, permission was given to Becca to accompany her mother and
Jack to the village. Into the rear of the sleigh a big basket was
packed. Becca was told that she must not ask any questions nor peep, so
she neither questioned nor looked in, but found out, after all, for
when they were come to the camp, she saw her mother take out loaves of
rye bread and a jug, into which she knew nothing but milk ever was put,
and carry them into a hut which had the sign of a hospital over it.
Every third cabin was a hospital, and each and every one held within it
men that were always hungry and in suffering.
In all her life Becca had never seen so much to make her feel sorry,
as she saw when she followed her mother to the door of the
log-hospital, into which she was forbidden to enter.
There large-eyed, hungry men lay on the cold ground, with only poor,
wretched blankets to cover them. She caught a glimpse of a youthhe
did not seem much older than her own Jackwith light, fair hair, such
big blue eyes, and the thinnest, whitest hands, reaching up for the mug
of milk her mother was offering to him.
Then, when Jack came to her, he was wiping his eyes on his jacket
sleeve. He said If I was a soldier, and my country didn't care any
more for me than Congress does, I'd go home and leave the Red Coats to
carry off Congress. It's too bad, and he's a jolly good fellow. Wish we
could take him home and get him well.
Who is he, Jack?
O, a soldier-boy from one of the New England colonies. He's got a
brother with himthat's good.
The drive home, over the crisp snow, was a very silent one. More
than one tear froze on Mrs. Blackstone's cheek, as she remembered the
misery her eyes had beheld, and her hands could do so little to
The next day Mr. Blackstone reached home from Philadelphia. He had
seen the Britons in all the glory and pomp of plenty and red
regimentals in a prosperous city. He returned a confirmed Tory, and
wishednever mind what he did wish, since his unkind wish never came
to passbut this is that which he did, he forbade Mrs. Blackstone to
give anything that belonged to him to a soldier of General Washington's
What will you do now, mamma, with all the stockings and mittens you
are knitting? questioned Becca.
Don't ask me, child, was the tearful answer that mother made, for
her whole heart was with her countrymen in their brave struggle.
Three nights after that time Mr. Blackstone entered his house,
I caught a ragged, bare-footed tatterdemalion hanging around, and I
warned him off; told him he'd better go home, if he'd got one anywhere,
and if not to join the army, of his king at Philadelphia.
What did he say, pa? asked Jack.
O some tomfoolery or other about the man having nothing to eat but
hay for two days, and his brother dying over at the Forge. I didn't
stop to listen to the fellow, but sent him flying.
Jack touched his mother's toe in passing, and gave Becca a
mysterious nod of the head, as much as to say:
He's the soldier from our hospital over there, but nobody made
answer to Mr. Blackstone.
Becca's eyes filled with tears as she sat down at the tea-table, and
sturdy Jack staid away until the last minute, taking all the time he
could at washing his hands, that he might get as many looks as possible
through the window in the hope that the bare-footed soldier might be
lingering about, but he gained no glimpse of him.
Farmer Blackstone had the rheumatism sometimes, and that night he
had it worse than ever, so that an hour after tea-time he was quite
ready to go to bed, and his wife was quite ready to have him go, also
to give him the soothing, quieting remedies he called for.
Becca was to sit up that night until eight-of-the-clock, if she made
no noise to disturb her father.
While her mother was busied in getting her father comfortable, she
thought, as it was such bright moonlight, she would go out to give her
turkeys a count, it having been two or three nights since she had
Slipping a shawl of her mother's over her head, she opened softly
the kitchen door to steal out. The lowest possible whistle from Jack
accosted her at the house corner. That lad intercepted her course, drew
her back into the shadow, and bade her Look!
She looked across the snow, over the garden wall, into the orchard,
and there, beneath her apple-tree, stood something between a man and a
scarecrow, and it appeared to be looking up at the sleeping turkeys.
Both arms were uplifted.
O dear! what shall we do? whispered Becca, all in a shiver of cold
Let's go and speak to him. Maybe it is our hospital man, said
Jack, with a great appearance of courage.
The two children started, hand in hand, and approached the soldier
so quietly that he did not hear the sound of their coming.
As they went, Becca squeezed her brother's fingers and pointing to
the snow over which they walked, whispered the word Blood!
From his feet, responded Jack, shutting his teeth tightly
Yes, there it lay in bright drops on the glistening snow, showing
where the feet of the patriot had trod. The children stood still when
they were come near to the tree. At the instant their mother appeared
in the kitchen doorway and called Jack!
The ragged soldier of the United American States lost his courage at
the instant and began to retire in confusion; but Becca summoned him to
Wait a minute! He waited.
Did you want one of my turkeys? she asked.
I was going to steal one, to save my brother's life, he
Is he only a boy, and has he light hair and blue eyes, and does he
lie on the wet ground?
That's Joseph, he groaned.
Then take a good, big, fat turkeythat one there, if you can get
him, said Becca. They are all mine.
The turkey was quietly secured.
Now take one for yourself, said Becca.
Number two came down from the perch.
How many men are there in your hospital? asked Jack, who had
responded to his mother's summons, and was holding a pair of warm
stockings in his hand.
Give him another, Becthere's a good girl; three turkeys ain't a
bone too many for twelve hungry men, prompted Jack.
Take three! said Becca. My pa never counts my turkeys.
The third turkey joined his fellows.
Better put these stockings on before you start, or father will
track you to the camp, said Jack. And pa told ma never to give you
anything of his any more.
Never was weighty burden more cheerfully borne than the bag Jack
helped to hoist over the soldier's shoulder as soon as the stockings
had been drawn over the bleeding feet.
Now I'm going. Thank you, and good night. If you, little girl,
would give me a kiss, I'd take itas from my little Bessy in
That's for Bessy in Connecticut, said the little girl, giving him
one kiss, and now I'll give you one for Becca in Pennsylvania. Hurry
home and roast the turkeys quick.
They watched him go over the hill.
Jack, said Becca, if I'd told a lie to the turkeys where would
they have been to-night, and Joseph? There are eight more. I wish I'd
told him to come again. Pa's rheumatism came just right to-night,
I reckon next year you won't have all the turkeys to give away to
the soldiers, said Jack, adding quite loftily, I shall go to raising
turkeys in the Spring myself, and when Winter comes we shall see.
Now, Jacky, said Becca, half-crying, there are eight left, and
you take half.
No, I won't, rejoined Jack. I'd just like to walk over to Valley
Forge and see the soldiers enjoy turkey. Won't they have a feast! I
shouldn't wonder if they'd eat one raw.
Soldiers do eat dreadful things sometimes, he assured her with a
lofty air. And then they went into the house, and the door was shut.
The next year there was not a soldier left above the sod at Valley
Now the soldiers are gone, the camp is not, the little girl has
passed away, the apple-tree is dead, and only the hills at Valley Forge
are left to tell the story, bitter with suffering, eloquent with
praise, of the men who had a hundred years ago toiled for Freedom
there, and are gone home to God.