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Organ of the Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Associations.


A Forehanded Christmas

By Ivy Williams Stone

At evelen o'clock on Christmas Eve Mr. Brownell hung the last garland and removed his stepladder from the littered parlor. "It looks festive enough to suit me,” he yawned, surveying his handiwork. "There's been enough fussing over these preparations to entertain an orphanage. Come on, Mollie," he added sleepily, "let's call it a day. It's been a hard one too-I'm tuckered out."

Mrs. Brownell, crowding oranges into a row of bulging stockings, answered rather crisply. "Been!" she echoed, her overworked nerves finding relief in rapid speech. "there's no past tense about this day vet. My day's only well begun. I've been getting ready three weeks and here I am, only half finished when the Christmas chimes are beginning to ring. Christmas is no longer a day of peace and joy-it's one of toil. A wild, idiotic scramble is the best definition I know to describe it." In her agitation she pushed three oranges into one stockng and all the raisins in another.

Mr. Brownell patted her shoulder affectionately. "You're tired out, Mollie," he attempted to soothe. "Come on to bed-things will look better in the morning."

"I can't!' the reply was almost desperate. "This room has to be

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straightened," with a sweeping gesture she indicated the litter of tinsel, holly, and paper-"and I still have to stuff the turkey and strain the cranberry sauce. No, there, will be no time in the morning," she anticipated her husband's suggestion, "we get up so late, I'll have to start the turkey soon as posible. But there'll be no more of this eleventh hour rush," she added with determination. "If I'm alive next year we'll have a sane, sensible, quiet celebration. If I don't accomplish another thing the whole year, I'll work to that one end."

'Going to join the spugs?" inquired Mr. Brownell with tolerant good humor, as he stealthily dropped his shoes under the shelter of the Christmas tree.

"More than that." Mrs. Brownell eyed the shoes with housewifely disapproval. "I'll manage a forehanded Christmas for all of us. We're all behind hand. Myrtle is up in her room right this minute, with the keyhole covered, frantically sewing lace on towels to give me. June pretended Mrs. Loche needed her to care for the twins, but in reality she's over there finishing a yoke for Myrtle; and Bennie worked in the basement finishing a footstool for you until I literally drove him to bed; and Howard-"

"Did he get it finished?" inter

rupted Mr. Brownell with fatherly determination. "I'll be forehanded, pride. "Bless his ten year old heart," if it's the last thing I do." he mused. "He's been asking me about stains and brass tacks for the last month or so. If it isn't finishel I'll go down and touch it up a bit." He reached for the offending shoes.


"Oh, it's done-" the answer was none too gracious," but I warn you not to handle it overmuch-it's wet. He stained it the last thing and set it close to the furnace to dry, and the whole house is permeated with the odor of the stuff. It'll be a wonder if my mince pies are fit to eat. called quick drying, but I call it quick smelling. And, Howard," Mrs Brownell took up her narrative at the point of interruption, "Like his father in many ways, never woke up to its being Christmas Eve until six o'clock. Then he rushed down town and spent his good money for any old junk clerks cared to shove off on him. And you don't need to look so superior, James Howard." Mrs. Brownell's good humor was reestablished, and she laughed tolerantly as she straightened the litered room. "I know perfectly well you never thought of buying presents either, until the stores were all closed." She moved kitchenward as she spoke.

Mr. Brownell looked properly crestfallen. "If I could help you, Mollie," he began.

"No, Howard," the tone indicated true concern for his comfort. "You're tired, and you'd only potter around. But your shoes are hardly an ornament for the tree, so take them with you and go to bed. When I give a Christmas dinner, I intend it to be a real one, even if I do have to sit up half the night to finish it," she concluded with unconscious pride. "But there'll be no midnight preparations another year," she added with fresh

Mrs. Brownell never once forgot her resolve. While the new year was just a fledgling, she started her "forehanded" campaign. She She attended every sale, hunting for suitable gifts. The girls' summer time needle work was directed toward Christmas presents; goaded by his mother's persistency Bennie sawed and hammered all during vacation. Howard was induced to shop early, and even Father Brownell seemed to absorb hints concerning judicious gifts. And as the festive season approached the plans ripened to the desired fullness. The Christmas drawer was loaded with bundles, wrapped and labeled; and the twenty-fourth of December found the household a model of forehanded preparedness. A huge turkey, all ready for the oven, hung on the back porch; a long row of mince pies filled an entire shelf in the fruit room. Every holly wreath hung at the proper angle the tree was resplendent. The whole house reflected an air of quiet, serene tranquility, unlike the chaotic bustle which had graced all former celebrations.

At four o'clock Mrs. Brownell settled herself in a rocker and complacently surveyed the culmination of her labors. "It's been a task, chil. dren," she said beamingly to Myrtle and June, who were finishing the week's mending, "but it's been worth the effort. No night shift this Christmas no belated preparations -no need to visit crowded stores. Do you remember what a hurry and commotion we had last year? I stuffed the turkey after midnight-why here's father," she added in an altered tone, as a shadow darkened

the door. "Wonder what brings him home so early?"

"Hello, ladies," announced Mr. Brownell genially tramping his feet unnecessarily long, "got the stage all set it seems," he continued. "Hardly seems like our house on Christmas Eve everything so peaceful and still."

"James Howard, what's wrong?" Mrs. Brownell saw beneath his pretense at levity.

"Nothing-nothing at all, Mollie," he assured her. "Just came early to see how you were getting along with your preparations. Thought maybe if things were runnings smoothly, that you'd like a chance that the girls would enjoy a little practice—that maybe our Christmas would seem a bit more cheerful with some younger children-it's kid's day anyhow you know-and-and, well the opportunity came and I couldn't refuse," he faltered, fumbling for words.

"Have you invited the Orphanage here for Christmas?" demanded his wife.

"Oh no, no-no," he hastened to assure. "Not nearly so many-only three, I think. Yes, there are only three of them."

"Sit down," commanded Mrs. Brownell, "and tell me exactly what you have done."

Mr. Brownell obeyed. "Hang it all, Mollie," now the ice was broken the story assumed coherency. "I did it before I thought about your forehanded plans. Couldn't help it, any way. Couldn't leave the little shavers alone for Christmas. You know Tom Higgins, that young mechanic in my shop? Nice boy-nice wife, too. Well, she's been ailing for a month, doctors couldn't decide what was wrong. And they're taking her to the hospital-operation-got to be done tonight. You know they haven't

any folks here, not a single soul to go to for help. And Tom didn't ask me, but I out and told him we'd take the kids and keep 'em over Christ


He's got dolls bought for the twin girls, but his wife's been too sick to dress 'em, so I told him Myrtle and June would enjoy doing it-sort of in line with their school sewing, I thought. And the little fellowtwo year old Junior-wants a train. Howard can go shopping for that. That's all, Mollie, honest," he finished, settling back in his chair, prepared for a vehement protest.

Mrs. Brownell did not answer, but her face hardened. This was not forehanded.

"You've never failed me yet, Mollie," Mr. Brownell was alarmed at her set expression, "and I know you won't now. Do you remember the year our Bennie had the measles at Christmas and pneumonia set in? Remember how dark and silent the house was," he continued eagerly, working up a role of sympathy, “and what a cheerless day the other kiddies had? How they sat huddled in a corner, forgotten and neglected? Well, Tom Higgins has to be at the hospital all night and maybe all day tomorrow. Think, Mollie-know how it feels?"

Mrs. Brownell fumbled for her handkerchief, while the girls eagerly watched for her answer.

"Go get those poor children, Howard," she ordered, in a softened voice, "there's plenty for them to eat. The twins can sleep in the spare room and the boy with Bennie. June, you girls had better hurry down town and buy some bright silkoline to make those doll dresses a yard for each."

"Thank heaven for this timely interruption!" cried June, throwing a half darned sock into the mending basket. "This house is like a ceme

tery. The silence was getting dreadful. I like excitement on Christmas -I love to go shopping in crowds. I've been wishing all day long that something would happen. Come on Myrtle farewell socks! Who ever heard of darning socks on Christmas Eve, anyway? We've got an old doll's dress pattern somewhere, haven't we? Couldn't we buy some candy animals, too, mother, for their stockings, and striped canes? And a train won't be half enough for little Junior. He's the one with curls like gold. We ought to get him a sled and a tool box and-"

Her inventory was cut short by the entrance of Bennie accompanied by a smaller boy, openly timid and uncertain of his reception.

"Gunn's have got the smallpox and they're putting a sign on their house now, and I've asked Ken to stay with us till his folks get well," he announced nonchalantly.

"What!" The chorus was four voices strong and June added in an undertone, "looks like I'm getting my wish!"

"Oh, you needn't get scared," added Benny with far more assurance than his father had shown over his addition to the family, "Ken ain't been near his father's room for a week-the worst is over, the doctor said. He give me and Ken a can of stuff to burn around his clothesand said to put him in a basement room for two hours and let it burn and there'd be no danger. He rolled me and Ken over the fence into our yard, soon as he'd took a look at his dad; and Mrs. Gunn said for moth er to please go down town and buy Ken some more clothes, cause he was cleaning the chicken coop when the doctor come. And the doctor said it would be a shame to spoil Christmas for so small a boy and

make him catch smallpox. And he looked hard at me, so I says, 'Come on Ken to our house,' and here we are!" Benny finished his explanations with an air of virtue and finality.

Mrs. Brownell looked hopelessly at her husband. Mr. Brownell looked at the two boys standing before the paternal court, doubtful and anxious, in spite of the air of assurance which Bennie attempted to wear.

"Come on Kenneth," he said kindly, "you and I'll go downstairs and get this fumigating business over with before the little tads arrive. Bennie," he added with a poor attempt at sternness, "brng some of your clothes for Ken. You should have consulted your elders," he reproved, "even I wouldn't think of upsetting your mother's arrangements without first consulting her!" he concluded virtuously.

Two hours later the enlarged family gathered in the living room. The Higgins twins, awed and frightened, gazed upon the tree; June and Myrtle were making frantic efforts to amuse the quivering chinned Junior. Kenneth, fed and bathed, was beginning to feel at ease.

Mrs. Brownell once more sat down to contemplate her efforts to overcome obstacles. "It all goes to prove, girls," she said serenely, "how necessary it is to be ready for any emergency! Supose we had not been forehanded, how could we have met this unexpected situation?"

As if in answer to her own query, she sat up abruptly, sniffing the air suspiciously.

"James Howard," she cried in genuine alarm, "where did you put that formaldehyde candle? Where are Kenneth's clothes fumigating?"

"In the fruit room, Mollie, dear," answered Mr. Brownell, without re

moving his glance from his paper. "Fruit room!" gasped Mrs. Brownell. "Fruit room!" came like a hollow echo. "Ten mince pies-one plum pudding—one quart of cranberry sauce, where, it simply can't be."

Mr. Brownell dropped his paper, stumbling noisily through it as he realized the enormity of his blunder. "The can said 'use a closed room'," he expostulated, "and you know there's a pane of glass broken in the furnace room. Never once thought of your pies. Will they be spoiled?"

Mrs. Brownell cast him a withering glance. "Do you remember how that stain nearly spoiled them last year? All through dinner I fancied I could detect the odor of turpentine, but formaldehyde," she deigned no further reply.

At this point Howard Junior entered through the kitchen door, laden with the twelfth hour shopping which the enlarged family had necessitated. "Mother you look disturbed," he greeted. "Sorry you've got so many extra folks? I hate to tell you-but you'll have to know it sooner or later. Did you say our turkey was hanging on the back porch to freeze?"

"It is hanging there," replied his mother. "It's on the bird cage hook at the east end. Lucky thing, too, that it wasn't in the fruit room."

"Well-somebody, somebodyit doesn't seem to be there, now. Sure you didn't take it down? If it has been stolen I'll track the thief-that was the finest bird in the market." Howard radiated indignation at the thought of his loss.

"It must have gotten tired of waiting to be cooked," put in June, ever ready for levity. "I'd have run away, if I had been he. He's been all ready for the oven for two whole days."

Bennie looked up from the absorb

ing construction of a mechano windmill. "It didn't walk off," he explained. "I gave it to Mrs. Gunn's cook, so she wouldn't leave when the sign went up. They didn't have a thing in the house to eat that was Christmasy; so busy waiting on Mr. Gunn. I told the cook mother wouldn't care-and what would poor Mrs. Gunn do with no cook and no turkey, nothing.only smallpox for dinner?" Feeling his action amply justified, Bennie again turned to his mechano.

"We might have known you'd provide excitement, Bennie," laughed Myrtle. "You're so dependable in that line. I only hope Mr. Gunn is well enough to eat some of it-else the cook will be sick too. For you'll hardly track your bird under such circumstances, will you, Howard?"


But Howard saw no mirth in the situation. He had purchased that turkey with hard-earned money. made a long stride in the direction of his offending brother, but his father, feeling himself equally culpable wth Bennie, stopped him with an extended greenback.

"Here, son," he urged. "Never mind scolding your brother. Hurry down town and buy the best turkey you can find. You'll have a hard job at the best. Give me that boy, June, you don't know what ails him. He wants to be cuddled-see-there boy, there-boy-" he crooned.

"Mother," he added, sensing that Mrs. Brownell needed action as a balm to her rising emotions, "guess we'll have to move the spare bed into the parlor. These poor, frightened girls will be so lonely off by themselves they'll cry themselves sick. We'll put all three of 'em in one big bed, right next to the tree-what's Christmas for, anyway, except to make kiddies happy? Soon as I get

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