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THE SOAP MAKING OF REMEMBER BIDDLE
T may chance that you will not be able to return by
Thanksgiving Day?" Remember Biddle asked with almost a
sob in her voice.
A little Puritan girl of long ago was Remember, dressed
in a long straight gown of gray stuff, heavy hobnailed
shoes and wearing a white kerchief crossed about her
neck. She stood in the door of the little log
farm-house that looked out upon the dreary stretch of
the Atlantic coast with Plymouth Rock raising its gray
head not so very far away.
No wonder Remember felt unhappy. Her mother was at the
door mounted upon their horse, and ready to start away
for quite a long journey as journeys were counted in
those days. She was going with a bundle of herbs to
care for a sick neighbor who lived a distance of ten
miles away. It had been an urgent summons, brought by
the post carrier that morning. The neighbor was ill,
indeed, and the fame of Mistress Biddle's herb brewing
was well known through the countryside.
She leaned down from the saddle to touch Remember's
dark braids. The little girl had run out
 beside the horse and laid her cheek against his soft
side. Her father was far away in Boston, attending to
some important matters of shipping. Her mother's going
left Remember all alone. She repeated her question,
"Shall I be alone for Thanksgiving Day, mother, dear?"
Her mother turned away that the little daughter might
not see that her eyes, as well, were full of sorrow.
"I know not, Remember. I sent a letter this morning by
the post carrier to Boston telling your
 father that I should wait for him at Neighbor
Allison's, and if I could leave the poor woman he could
come home with me. I hope that we shall be here in time
for Thanksgiving Day, but if it should happen,
Remember, that you must be alone take no thought of
your loneliness. Think only of how much cause we have
for being thankful in this free, fertile land of New
England. And keep busy, dear child. You will find
plenty to do in the house until my return."
Throwing the girl a good-bye kiss, Mistress Biddle gave
the horse a light touch with her riding whip and was
off down the road, her long, dark cloak blowing like a
gray cloud on the horizon in the chill November wind.
For a few moments Remember leaned against the beams of
the door listening to the call of a flock of flying
crows and the crackling of the dried cornstalks in the
field back of the house. Beyond the cornfield lay the
brown and green woods, uncut, save by an occasional
winding Indian trail. The neighboring cabins were so
far away that they looked like toy houses set on the
edge of other fields of dried cornstalks. Looking again
toward the woods Remember shivered a little. She saw in
imagination, a tall, dark figure in a gay blanket and
trailing feather headdress stalk out from the depths of
the thicket of pines and oaks. Then she laughed.
 "There hasn't an Indian passed here since early in the
summer," she said to herself. "Mother would not have
left me here alone if she had not known that I should
be quite safe. I will go in now and play that I am the
mistress of this house, and I am getting it ready for
company on Thanksgiving Day. It will be so much fun
that I shall forget all about being a lonely little
It was a happy play. Remember tied one of her mother's
long aprons over her dress to keep it clean, and began
her busy work of cleaning the house and making it shine
from cellar to ceiling. She sorted the piles of ruddy
apples and winter squashes and pumpkins in the cellar,
and rehung the slabs of rich bacon and the strings of
onions. As she touched the bundles of savory herbs that
hung about the cellar walls, Remember gave a little
"I see no chance of these being used in the stuffing of
a fat turkey for Thanksgiving," she said to herself.
"It may be that I shall have to eat nothing but mush
and apple sauce for my dinner, and all alone. Ah,
well-a-day!" She began to sing in her sweet, child
voice one of the hymns that she had learned at the big
"The Lord is both my health and light;
Shall men make me dismayed?
Since God doth give me strength and might,
Why should I be afraid?"
 As she sang, Remember lifted a bucket of soft soap that
stood on the cellar floor and tugged it up to the
kitchen. Then she went to work with a will.
Several days passed before Remember had cleaned the
house to her satisfaction. On her hand and knees she
scoured the floors, her rosy hands and arms drenched
with the foaming soapsuds. Afterward she sprinkled sand
upon the spotless boards in pretty patterns as was the
fashion in those days. She swept the brick hearth with
a broom made of twigs, and she scoured the pewter and
copper utensils until they were as bright as so many
mirrors. She washed the wooden chairs until the bunch
of cherries painted upon the back of each looked bright
enough to pick and eat. She dusted the straight
rush-bottomed chairs and the settle that stood by the
side of the fireplace. Even the tall clock in the
corner had its round glass face washed. Then Remember
stood in the center of the kitchen looking at the good
result of her work.
"My mother, herself, could have done no better!" she
thought. Then she looked at the keg that had held their
precious store of soft soap. There was no soap to be
bought in those long-ago days; the Puritans were
obliged to make their own.
"I have used up all the soap. Oh, what will my mother
say at such waste? What shall I do?" Remember said, in
 She sat down by the fire and thought. Suddenly she
jumped up. A happy plan had come to her.
"I will make a mess of soap," Remember said to herself.
"I have helped mother to make soap many a time and I
can do no more than try. It is yet some days until
Thanksgiving and I should be sadly idle with nothing
more to do, now that the house is put so well in order.
The soap-making barrel, a hole bored in the bottom,
stood in a corner of the cellar; it was light enough so
that Remember could easily handle it and she was strong
for her twelve summers and winters. In the bottom of
the barrel she put a layer of clean, fresh straw from
the shed and over this she filled the barrel as far as
she could with wood ashes. Then she rolled, and tugged,
and lifted the barrel to a high bench that stood by the
kitchen door, taking care that the hole was just above
a large empty bucket. Then Remember brought pails of
water and, standing on a stool, poured the water into
the barrel until it began to drip down through the
ashes and the straw to the bucket below. It looked
rather dirty as it filtered down into the bucket but
Remember took good care not to touch it with her
fingers for she knew that it had turned into lye. Late
in the afternoon Remember took out a hen's egg and
dropped it into the bucket to see what would happen.
 "It floats!" she said. "Now I am sure that I made the
lye right and I can attend to the grease to-morrow."
Remember had to start a huge fire the next day and she
got out the great black soap kettle, filled it with the
lye and hung it over the fire. Into this she put many
scraps of meat fat and waste grease that her mother had
been saving for just such a soap-making emergency as
this. It bubbled and boiled and Remember carefully
skimmed from the top all the bones and skin and pieces
of candle wicking that rose, as the lye absorbed the
 and cooked it into a thick, ropy mixture. It looked
very much like molasses candy as it boiled and after a
while Remember knew that it was done. She lifted the
kettle off the fire and poured the thick, brown jelly,
that was now good soft soap, into big earthenware
crocks to cool.
"I made the soap quite as well as my mother could,"
Remember said to herself with a great deal of
satisfaction as she put the crocks, all save one, in
the cellar. This one she kept for use in the kitchen.
"There's not another thing that I can think of to do,"
Remember said now. She looked out of the window at the
bleak, bare fields behind which the November sun was
just preparing to set in a flame-colored ball. "Here it
is the afternoon before Thanksgiving Day and mother and
father are not home yet, and we haven't anything in the
house for a Thanksgiving dinner!" She looked toward the
woods now. What was that?
A speck of color that she could see in the narrow
footpath between the trees suddenly came nearer,
growing larger and brighter all the time. Remember
could distinguish the gaudy blanket, bright moccasins,
and feather headdress of an Indian. Stalking across the
field, he was fast approaching their little log house
which he could easily see from the woods and which
seemed to offer him an easy goal.
 Remember covered her face with her hands, trying in her
terror to think what to do.
The bolt on the kitchen door was but a flimsy
protection at best. Remember knew that the Indian would
be able to wrench it off with one tug of his brawny
arm. She knew, too, that it had been the custom of the
Indians who were encamped not far off to take the
children of the colonists and hold them for a high
"The white face takes our land; we take the papoose of
the white face," they had threatened, and they were
cruel indeed to the children whom they held, especially
if their parents were a long time supplying the
necessary ransom. But it had been so long now since an
Indian had been seen in their little settlement, that
Remember's mother had felt quite safe in leaving her.
Remember looked now for a place to hide. There was
none. The cellar would be the first place, she knew,
where the Indian would look for her. The tall clock was
too small a space into which to squeeze her fat little
body; and there was no use hiding under the bed for she
would be dragged out at once. Remember turned, now,
hearing a footstep. The Indian, big, brown, and
frowning had crossed the threshold and stood in the
center of the room. His blanket trailed the floor; over
his shoulder was slung a pair of wild turkeys he had
 Remember trembled, but she faced him bravely.
"How!" she said, reaching out a kind little hand to
him. The Indian shook his head, and did not offer to
shake hands with the little girl. Instead, he pointed
to the door, motioned to her that she was to follow
Remember's mind worked quickly. She knew that Indians
were fond of trinkets and could sometimes be turned
away from their cruel designs by means of very small
gifts. She ran to her mother's work basket and offered
him in succession a pair of scissors, a case of bright,
new needles, a scarlet pincushion, and a silver
thimble. Each, in turn, the Indian refused, shaking his
head and still indicating by his gestures that Remember
was to follow him.
Now he grasped the little girl's hand and tried to pull
her. There was no use resisting. But just as they
reached the door the Indian caught sight of the crock
of soft soap—dark, sticky, and strangely
fascinating to him. He stuck one long brown finger in
it and started to put it in his mouth, but Remember
reached up and pulled his hand away. She shook her head
and made a wry face to show him that it was not good to
"How?" he questioned, pointing to the soap.
Remember pulled from his grasp. Pouring a dipperful of
water in a basin, she took a handful of the soap and
showed the Indian how she could wash
 her hands. As he watched a look, first of wonder, and
then of pleasure, crept into his face. He smiled and
looked at his own hands. They were stained with earth
and sadly in need of washing. Remember refilled the
basin with water and the Indian, helping himself to a
huge handful of the soap, washed his hands solemnly as
if it were a kind of ceremony.
As Remember watched him, her heart beat fast indeed,
"As soon as he finishes he will take me away," she
Slowly the Indian dried his hands on the towel she gave
him. Then he picked up the crock of soft soap. He set
it on his shoulder. Pointing to the pair of turkeys
that he had laid on the table to show that he was
giving them to Remember in exchange for the soap, he
strode out of the door and was soon lost to sight in
the wood's path.
Remember dropped down in a chair and could scarcely
believe she was really safe. A quick clatter of hoofs
roused her. She darted to the door.
"Father, mother!" she cried.
Yes, it was indeed they; her father riding in front
with her mother in the saddle behind.
"Just in time for Thanksgiving!" they cried as they
jumped down and embraced Remember.
"And I'm here, too, and we have a pair of turkeys for
dinner," Remember said, half smiles and half tears, as
she told them her strange adventure.