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"Mr. Perkins found himself fumbling with the buttons
on a small, blue gnigham back"

(See page i8)




Author of "Mis' Bassett*s Matrimony Bureau"


New York Chicago Torowto

Fleming H. Revell Company

London and Edinburgh

Copyright, 1913 by

Copyright, 1914, by

New York: 158 Fifth Avenue
Chicago: 17 North Wabash Ave.
London: 21 Paternoster Square
Edinburgh: 75 Princes Street


I. The Surprise Package .

II. Pancakes for Two .

III. The New Housekeeper .

IV. Hunting for the Pie-Maker
V. The Turnover Goes to School

VI. Mrs. Em. to the Rescue

VII. Exit " Old Grouchy Gruff "

VIII. Uncle Lem's Christmas Party




IX. Merry Christmas Finds the

Happy New Year ... 87


" Mr. Perkins found himself fumbling
with the buttons on a small, blue
gingham back " . . . Frontispiece


"Where's the bundle Sam Coles left?"
he demanded of the group around
the stove lo

" How do you do ! Does my uncle, Mr.

Lemuel Perkins, live here ? " . . 14

*' Oh, goody ! " she cried. " I was so
afraid you'd be late, and I didn't
want you to miss anything " . -78


ERE'S a package for you, Hime,'*
yelled the burly conductor.
" Brown, with a red label on top.
I'll just set it here till you haul
down the mail bags."

The station-master's lantern
stopped bobbing for a moment.

" All right. Set it down inside," he shouted,
over his shoulder. " Snow's so deep to-night
I might lose it on the platform."

The little girl in the brown coat and the hat
with the big red bow on top, giggled de-

" He'll think it's lost sure enough," she said.
*' 'Twould be a fine April Fool if it wasn't so
near Christmas, wouldn't it? "

" A-number-one," agreed the big conductor,
appreciatively. *' Well, good-bye, sissy; the
train's moving. Hope you'll have a fine time."
" Oh, I shall," responded the little girl con-
fidently. '' I always do. Good-bye. Oh, look !
He's coming ! "


Down the platform bobbed the station-mas-
ter's lantern, the centre of a moving vortex of
big, fluffy snowflakes. After the darkness
outside, even the dimly lighted little waiting
room seemed dazzling as he stepped inside,
dragging the mail bags behind him.

''Where's the bundle Sim Coles left?" he
demanded of the little group assembled around
the tall, whitewashed stove, slinging his burden
at the feet of the village bus driver, who stood
with one foot on the ledge around the bottom
of the stove, while he slapped his wet mittens
against its glowing sides.

" Sim Coles never came in here," answered
a tall man with a black beard. '' He was talkin'
outside with a little gal."

'' Likely he's hove it into a snowdrift,"
grumbled the station-master, turning back
toward the door. " Should think he might
uv "

A little brown figure sprang out of the

" No, he didn't," she contradicted gleefully.
'' I'm the brown package, you know, and the
bow on my hat is the red label. He said it for
a joke."

For a moment the group around the stove
stared — then they joined in the merry peal of
laughter that was shaking the red label.


" So you're the package, be ye ? " inquired
the station-master. " Waal, where are you
bound for, sissy ? Come on up and let's read
that fancy tag of yourn."

The little girl bubbled appreciatively.

" Fve come to visit my uncle," she explained.
" That is, he's mother's uncle, Mr. Lemuel

'* Is Lem expectin' of you?" inquired the
'bus driver, leisurely picking up a mail bag
from the floor.

"Oh, no. Isn't it fun? I'm a real Christ-
mas surprise, you know, sent early, so as not
to overload the mail."

She laughed again.

" Well, I guess you'd better ride along up
with me, then. Lem lives just a little piece
beyond the post-office."

" Oh, goody ! " exclaimed the delighted pas-
senger, with a breezy little rush across the
room to the other door. " This w^ill be my
second sleigh ride, and I can drop right down
on him out of a snowstorm, just the way a
Christmas surprise ought to. May I sit on the
front seat with you, Mr. — er "

" Bennett," supplied that gentleman genially.
" Drove the Oatka Centre 'bus ever since there
was a deepo to drive to. Say, who was your
mother, sissy ? Did she ever live here ? '*


'' Not exactly. Her name was Ellen Rum-
ball, till she married father and went to India
to live. She used to visit Uncle Lemuel and
Aunt Nancy, before Aunt Nancy died."

*' Why, pshaw now ! She ain't the Ellen
Rumball that married a missionary named
Christian, is she? "

'' Christie," corrected the small person.
*' We're all missionaries, and live in India.
Father and mother and me and the children.
Only I'm in boarding school now — Crescent
Hill, you know — the loveliest school! But
scarlet fever broke out, so school closed two
weeks early, and the girl I was going to visit
has the fever, so I decided to come right down
and spend Christmas with Uncle Lemuel.
Won't he be surprised ? "

The driver peered out through the soft dark-

'' He will that," he drawled. " Lem ain't so
gol darned used to children as some."

The little girl's laugh tinkled gleefully.

" Oh, I'm not a child," she explained. " I
guess you didn't see me very well; the station
was so dark. Why, I'm thirteen and a half
years old, and I've been grown up for a long
time. I had to be, you see, to take care of the
children. Mother had her hands so full with
the people and the schools and father's meet-


ings and all that. Being a missionary is the
most absorbing work there is," she ended im-

*' Oh, I see," chuckled Mr. Bennett. " Quite
an old lady, and a missionary to boot. That's
lucky, now. Lem's been lookin' for a house-
keeper for quite a spell, they say — ever since
the Widder Em left him. A missionary, now,
will come in real handy. I'll drive ye right
over first, and stop to the office on the way
back. Can you see that light down there?
That's Lem's kitchen. Want I should come in
with ye, sissy? "

The little girl pondered for a minute. " No,
I believe not," she answered. '* It would make
you seem more like Santa Claus, I think, if you
just dropped me and rode away."

Mr. Bennett chuckled.

" Mebbe it would, sissy, mebbe it would. I
hain't seen Sandy Claus in so long that I've
pretty nigh forgot how he does act. Whoa,
there, you reindeers ! Hold on while I drop a
Christmas passel down through Lem Perkins'
chimley. Good-bye now, sissy. Good luck to
ye. Giddap thar, you reindeers ! Giddap ! "



N the kitchen wing of the old-fash-
ioned brown house an old man was
just beginning to get supper, a
choleric old man, if one could judge
by the bushy fierceness of the shaggy
eyebrows above the sharp blue eyes,
and the aggressive slant of the gray chin
whisker. Mr. Lemuel Perkins had come in
rather late from a particularly heated meeting
of the village debating society, in grocery store
assembled, and you will have to admit that it
is not a soothing experience for a hungry man
to find the kitchen in dire confusion, the fire in
the cook stove nothing but a mass of embers,
and not a sign of supper in sight unless the
attenuated remains of a solitary dinner answer
that description.

A fire was blazing in the stove now, however;
and, girdled in a blue gingham apron, Mr.
Perkins was adding to the general confusion on
the kitchen table by trying to " stir up " some-
thing for supper, with the aid of a " ring-







streaked and spotted " recipe book. Intent
upon discovering whether a certain eleven was
really eleven or only a one and a fly speck, Mr.
Perkins totally disregarded the sound of " some
one gently tapping, tapping " at his kitchen
door, and did not even realize that it had been
pushed open till a brisk young voice inquired :

" How do you do ! Does my uncle, Mr.
Lemuel Perkins, live here? "

*'Huh?" demanded Mr. Perkins, whirling
about, recipe book in hand, and eyeing the in-
truder fiercely.

But fierce looks can find no entrance through
a pair of rose-colored spectacles that are radi-
ating sunshine and goodwill as hard as ever
they can.

" Oh, you are Uncle Lemuel ! " cried a happy
little voice, while its owner rushed headlong
across the kitchen with outstretched arms.
" Pm so glad to see you." With a gay little
spring she planted a kiss on the tip of the
bristling chin whisker. " Fm your grandniece,
Mary, and Fve come to spend Christmas with
you for a surprise. Have you had scarlet
fever? "

" Huh? " inquired Mr. Perkins again, a trifle
less fierce, but much more bewildered.

" Scarlet fever ? " shrieked Mary, deciding at
once that of course a proper great-uncle would


be deaf. " Have^^ — you — had — scarlet fever?
I've — been exposed ! "

*' For the land sakes, little gal, quit your
yellin' ! I ain't deef," retorted Mr. Perkins.
" Who'd you say you was ? "

'' Mary, your niece; but I'm not a little girl.
I'm thirteen and a half. Mother says I'm a real
little woman."

" She does, does she ? Waal, we'll see which
on us is right about it. Is there one cup of flour
in pancakes, or eleven? This blamed receipt
book is so messed up I can't tell."

" Oh, are you making pancakes? " returned
his guest joyfully. *' I'm so glad. I was afraid
you'd be through supper, and Fm almost
starved. You wouldn't let me make the pan-
cakes, would you, Uncle Lemuel? India's not
a very suitable place for them, mother says, so
we never had them much, but she let me make
them once or twice, and I just love to hear
them go splash on the griddle, and then bob
up like a rubber ball, and then flop them over,
all brown and lovely. It's such fun! But
probably you love to make them, too. I
oughtn't to ask the first night, I suppose."

Uncle Lemuel's visage, being trained to ex-
press habitual displeasure, had no difficulty in
concealing the feelings of joy that coursed
through him at these words. As he himself


would have expressed it, he " hated like dumb
p'ison to cook a meal of vittles," but it was
against Uncle Lemuel's principles to display-
satisfaction with the happenings of the world
about him.

" Well," he responded slowly, " if you're so
set on it, I s'pose you might as well. Only
don't be wasteful now, and stir up a mess we
can't eat."

He handed over the recipe book with a
grudging air that would have deceived the
very elect.

" I won't," promised his guest happily,
whisking off her coat with one hand and her
hat with the other, and finally finding a sat-
isfactory place for them on a remote rock-
ing-chair covered with red calico. " What
fun, starting in housekeeping with you right
away like this ! And such a grand fire ! Will
you set the table, and have you got some real
maple sirup? I don't think they have at
school, but mother said you and Aunt Nancy
got it right from your own trees. Do you
keep them in the back yard, and go out, and
draw some when you want it, as if you were
milking a cow?"

She was diving into her russet leather hand-
bag as she spoke, and presently she pulled out
a blue gingham apron with triumphant glee.


" Here's my big kitchen apron. Isn't it the
luckiest thing that I brought it in my hand-
bag? I didn't have a chance to wear it at
school, so I left it out of my trunk, and then
I ran across it at the last minute, and tucked
it in here. Everything does turn out so
grandly ! Why, see, our aprons match ! How
funny! We're twins, aren't we? Will you
button me up in the back, please, and then
ril tie yours again. Yours is slipping off."

In another moment the dazed Mr. Perkins
found himself fumbling with the buttons on
a small blue gingham back; and then, before
he could even think of the first letter of Jack
Robinson's name, a capable hand had tight-
ened his own apron strings, and transported
by two active little feet was marshalling the
various '' ingrejunts " that he had already
gathered together on the kitchen table.

Muttering something about maple sirup,
he retreated to the cellar to collect his
wits, though he knew full well that the sirup
can, since time immemorial, had occupied
the right-hand end of the top " butt'ry "

By the time he returned the culinary opera-
tions had been transferred to the sink bench,
and the kitchen table was laid for two. On
the stove a shining griddle was smoking in an-


ticipation, while the little cook was giving a
last anxious whip to the batter.

*^ I couldn't find the napkins, Uncle Lem-
uel," she called, as the cellarway door opened.
" Will you get them out, please^ and put the
butter and sirup on the table ? Oh, I do pray
these cakes will be good ! It's such a respon-
sibility to cook for a grown-up man ! "

A silence, heavy with the deepest anxiety,
settled almost visibly over the Perkins kitchen
from the first slap of the batter upon the smok-
ing griddle, till three cakes had been duly
** flopped " by the little cook's careful hand.
These, however, presented to view such beau-
tiful, round, creamy countenances, almost ob-
scured by very becoming brown lace veils,
that two huge sighs of relief exhaled together;
one of which was speedily transformed into
a dry little cough, while Uncle Lemuel turned
and tiptoed away in search of the tea caddy
and the old brown pot.

" As soon as we get six, we can sit down
and begin," called Mary excitedly. '' The
stove's so handy I can cook and eat, too.
That's such a nice thing about eating in the
kitchen. We could never do that in India,
there were always too many servants around,
though mother tried to keep it as much like
an American home as she could. That's why


she taught me to cook — so we could have
American dishes.'*

'* Can you make pie? " queried Uncle Lem-
uel, through a mouthful so dripping with ma-
ple sirup that even his tones seemed sweet-

" No, I can't," admitted Mary regretfully.
" Father didn't think pie was good for us, so
mother never tried to manage that."

All traces of sirup departed abruptly from
Uncle Lemuel's tones.

"Good for ye?" he growled. "Well, if
that ain't just like some folkses impudence!
Good for ye? Humph! Mebbe if I hadn't et
it three times a day I mightn't have had no
more sprawl than to go out to Injy and lay
round under a green cotton umbrell' with a
black feller fannin' the flies off of me. Why,
it's eatin' pie reg'lar that's put the United
States ahead of all the other nations of the
world! It's the bulwark of the American
Constitution, pie is."

Mary gazed at him with wide and inter-
ested eyes. Her mental picture of her own
overworked father was so many leagues away
from the vision under the green cotton um-
brella that, far from resenting Uncle Lemuel's
thrust, she never even recognized it.

" Do you think maybe that's the matter with


our constitutions? " she inquired eagerly. " I
had to come over to school because I wasn't
well, and father isn't a bit strong, either.
Mother thought it was the climate."

Uncle Lem's growl struggled through an-
other mouthful of sirup.

" Climate ! Huh ! A man that eats strength
enin' food enough can stand up against any
climate the Almighty ever made. I've felt
sorter pindlin' myself since I hain't had my pie
reg'lar, an' the climate or Oatka Centre is the
same as ever, hain't it?"

Even the intellect of a missionary as old as
thirteen and a half is forced to bow before
such logic as that.

** Then I must learn how to make pie
straight away," announced Mary solemnly.
" Could you teach me. Uncle Lemuel ? "

Uncle Lemuel shook his head.

" It takes womenfolks to make pies," he
admitted grudgingly. " I hain't had a decent
pie in the house since the Widder Em left

" Did she make good ones? " inquired Mary

Uncle Lemuel was almost torn in twain be-
tween his natural tendency toward disparage-
ment and the soothing effects of the innumer-


able procession of well-browned griddle cakes
that had come his way.

'' There is folks," ke compromised, " that
thinks she was a master-hand at it. Some
say the best in the village. I've et worse my-

" It's too bad she moved away," sighed
Mary ; " but I guess we can find somebody
else. Mother said the people in Oatka Centre
were the kindest in the world, and of course
they'd do it for you, anyhow."

A touch of a smile twitched at one corner
of the old man's mouth.

'' Oh, yes," he assented, witTi grim humour.
" Any durned one of 'em would do any thin'
under the canopy for me."

'' That's because you'd do anything under
the canopy for them," agreed the little girl.
" Kind people always find other people kind,
mother says. I do wish I could do something
for you myself, you're such a nice uncle, but
I'm getting so sleepy I can't think of a thing.
If you're through, we'd better wash the dishes
quickly, else I might," she ended, with a
sleepy little giggle, " tumble — splash — into the



iT was still dark when a resounding
thump on the door of the "parlour
bedroom " wakened the unconscious
little missionary, who had plumped
into the exact centre of its feather
bed the night before, and had
never stirred since.

" Be ye goin' to sleep all day?" growled a
voice outside.

The little brown head bounced out of its
pillow like a jack-in-a-box.

" Goodness, no ! " answered its owner, in a
startled voice. " I didn't know it was day-
time. Why, I meant to help you get break-
fast! Is it too late?"

" I s'pose I can wait, if you're set on makin'
some more pancakes," responded Uncle Lem-
uel craftily. "But you'd better flax around
pretty spry. I'll get the griddle het up."

The air of that " parlour bedroom " was
certainly conducive to spry " flaxing " if you
didn't want to congeal in a half-dressed con-


dition, and by the time the griddle was well
** het," the new cook appeared on the scene.

" Good morning, Uncle Lemuel ! " she cried
gaily, whisking across the kitchen and plant-
ing a swift little kiss upon that gentleman's
amazed countenance before she whirled about
and presented her blue gingham back to be
buttoned. " You certainly are the nicest man
in the world to wait so I could cook, and I
have planned a perfectly grand surprise for
you, too. We're going to have the j oiliest
Christmas together that ever was. Is the cof-
fee made yet?"

" Who told you to come here for Christ-
mas?" demanded Mr. Perkins, as he began
on his second plate of pancakes.

" Nobody at all," bubbled his guest glee-
fully. " That's the joke of it. It's a perfect
surprise all around. I was going home with
Patty Stanwood, you know, because her
mother and mine used to be school friends.
And then Patty had scarlet fever, and her
mother was afraid of me on account of the
baby. So then I remembered what fine times
mother used to have here when she was a girl,
and I knew this would be just the ideal place
to spend Christmas. You know, I've never
seen a real snowy American Christmas before
in my life, and I'm just wild about it. The


girls at school call me ' Merry Christmas,' in-
stead of * Mary Christie/ because I talk so
much about it, and I love it for a name!
Aren't you just crazy about Christmas, Uncle

Crazy about Christmas? Yes, indeed, little
Merry! Why, it was only the afternoon be-
fore, Job Simpkins, of the village " Empo-
rium," would have told you, that ''Lem Per-
kins had bellered and tore around as if the
very name of Christmas was a red fiannin rag
waved in front of a bull."

But when he looked into the shining young
eyes before him, even Uncle Lemuel's frenzy
couldn't fail to be a trifle abated.

'' I hain't much use for it — late years," he
answered gruffly. '* Folks make such tarna-
tion fools of themselves."

" Oh, you are a Christmas reformer," trans-
lated his little guest blithely. " Lots of peo-
ple are in America, they say. Maybe you are
a Spug. Are you a Spug, Uncle Lemuel ? "

" No, siree. Republican and Hardshell Bap-
tist, same as Pve always been. The old ways
is good enough for me. What's Spug, I'd like
to know? "

Mary clapped her hands.

" Fm so glad ! " she cried gleefully. " It's
a society to make you give useful Christmas


presents to people, and I've had useful ones
all my life — being a missionary family with
five children, of course we had to. But I'd
rather join a society to prevent them myself,
for I like useless ones lots better. Don't you ?
I've been hoping awfully that somebody would
give me a string of red beads or a set of pink
hair ribbons. Oh, I didn't mean that for a
hint! Do excuse me. Uncle Lemuel! Of
course, I'll like best whatever you choose.
How big a turkey do you usually buy ? " she
ended hastily.

'' Don't buy none," grunted Uncle Lemuel,
with his nose in his coffee cup.

** Why, of course not! You raise them
yourself, don't you? I am a goose," she
laughed. " Besides, people always invite you
when you live alone. I hope they won't this
year. It would be such fun to have a Christ-
mas party of our own, wouldn't it, right here
in this kitchen? Who do you want to invite?
I must go right out and get acquainted, so I'll
have some friends of my own to ask. It's
only two weeks off, but you can make a lot
of friends in two weeks, can't you, if you go
about it the right way? See what friends
we've got to be already ! "

" The science of self-expression " was quite
unknown when Uncle Lemuel went to district


school, but it would have demanded a full
dramatic course adequately to cope with the
torrent of varying emotions that was surging
through the time-worn channels of his con-
sciousness. Surprise, disgust, amusement,
wonder, disapproval, horror, and a wee touch
of pleasure tumbled over one another in rapid

And some way the wee touch of pleasure in
the child's innocent friendliness and liking
soared high enough on top of the flood to
soften the hard old mouth for a little and keep
back for the nonce the bitter words that would
shatter her Christmas air castles to fragments.
Nobody had really liked Lemuel Perkins in so
many years that he couldn't be blamed for en-
joying the sensation, though he felt as queer
as must an ice-bound stream when the first
little trickle of water creeps warmly through
its breast.

"Want I should help ye with the dishes?"
he inquired almost kindly. " I've got to go
over to town of an errand after a spell."

" Oh, have you got time? Fm so glad ! Do
you know, that's the funny thing about dishes ?
If you do them alone, they are the worst old
job that ever was, but when somebody nice
wipes for you, they're just fun. Mother says
it's that way with most kinds of work. Coul^


you stay long enough to help sort things out
a little, too? For a man, of course, you're
a very nice housekeeper — you ought to see fa-
ther! — hut with two of us around we may
need a little more room, don't you think so? "

Fortunately there was no one at hand to
reveal the fact that, no longer ago than two
hours, Mr. Lemuel Perkins had stated firmly
to the kitchen stove that ** folks that walked
in on you unasked and unwanted should at
least pay for their vittles by doing all the
housework." Kitchen stoves do not taunt you
with changing your mind, so Uncle Lemuel
was not hampered by the fear that has kept
many a better man from improving on him-

By half-past nine the Perkins kitchen shone
resplendent in the morning sunshine with a
brightness reminiscent of the days when Aunt
Nancy had boasted proudly that her kitchen
was the pleasantest room in the house.

Uncle Lemuel would really have liked to
sit down and enjoy its sunny neatness for a
while, but an irresistible impulse had begun
tugging at his cowhide boots, and Uncle
Lemuel had no choice but to set them at once
on the path to the post-office. For nine o'clock
is " mail time " in Oatka Centre, and either
totally unsocial or completely bedridden are

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Online LibraryWinifred ArnoldLittle Merry Christmas → online text (page 1 of 4)