Cecil arrived in the back salon with an extremely loud sigh, throwing her bundle onto the floor.
"I hate mending." she stated.
"Really?" said Jo,"I hadn't noticed."
"You can't talk." pointed out Phil from her corner, where she was attacking her sewing viciously.
"You're doing that more damage than anything else," said Joey sweetly, "Anyway what are you complaining about you only do your own mending!"
"But there's always so much." said Cecil sadly, "I don't know how it happens."
"That wheelbarrow race you indulged in yesterday might have had something to do with it." pointed out her Mother.
Cecil stuck out her tongue in reply.
"But they won." pointed out Marie-Claire.
Cecil grinned at the recollection. "We did rather didn't we Pip? Weren't Seth and Geoff surprised when we zipped by. Seth dropped Geoff's feet."
Jo laughed. "Seth is a nice boy isn't he. It's a shame he couldn't get home for Christmas. We shall have to try extra hard to make it a nice one for him, and you too Daphne of course." she finished, smiling at the dark-haired girl beside her, whose face was industriously bent over her mending. Not that she had much for she was far to gentle to batter her clothes, unlike rough and tumble Cecil and Phil.
"We always do have the most" grumbled Cecil to Phil, for she was in a bad mood. It seemed such a waste of a morning to spend it sewing and darning.
"Don't grump Cecey." said Jo, whilst she eyed one of Jack's more dilapidated socks warily. "Almost the entire Platz will be here this afternoon, surely that will be enough excitement for one day."
Daphne's hold on her sewing tightened as Jo spoke.
"Have you any ideas yet?" asked Jo, kindly pretending not to notice her niece's discomfort.
"Roddy is to be Santa Claus." said Marie-claire gleefully.
"Except we haven't told him yet." added Phil lightly.
Jo giggled apprreciatively. For several years now the Maynard siblings had been the chief organizers of a mini Christmas-themed fete which they, along with the rest of the "young people" of the Platz performed for the patients of the San. It had been Con's idea originally, and she had written several comical little plays in previous years. With no creative geniuses adorning the Platz this year they were planning to have a Christmas themed parade, and they had all been busily working on costumes although Daphne had faded to a shadow in the background at any mention of todays Grand Meeting, or the parade itself.
"Mamma tell us a story." implored Marie-claire, who was rapidly becoming bored with her mending, though she wasn't yet fractious like her sisters.
Jo glanced at her little wrist-watch, "It's almost ten now, we've wasted an awful lot of time already. I for one don't intend on wasting a whole day doing mending."
"Oh please Mamma." begged Marie-Claire, "We'll be quicker if we're interested in your story."
Jo gave in easily, "Alright then but just a short one, I have some sewing to do too you know! What is it Felicity?"
"Mamma can I be excused? I'll finish the rest later." asked Felicity anxiously. "I didn't realise the time."
Jo looked at her daughter sadly. "Of course you can dear." was all she said however.
Felicity bounded out of the room, her little bundle of mending clutched in her arms.
"Why does Fliss get to go?" asked Cecil moanily.
"May we be excused to?" was Phil's eager question.
"Oh girls" said Jo sadly, dragging her thoughts back to the group in the room, "Do you remember last term some of the Prefect's went to visit those girls who were in that accident on the shelf above us?"
"Yes", said Cecil slowly, "Fliss said Auntie Hilda had asked if any of the Pree's would like to visit them because they were the same age as them and they were bored and lonely and had no family out here."
"But that was at the beginning of last term." interjected Phil.
"Yes Pippa it was, but whilst two of the girls got better quickly and are now back at home, one of the girls, Keren, was very ill a few weeks after she arrived. She was the girl whom Lucy, and Jean and of course our Fliss had become very friendly with. The reason I let Felicity go is because it was her turn to visit Keren. Lucy had been up earlier in the week."
"When will she be better Mamma?" asked Marie-claire. "Can I go and visit her please?"
Jo smiled at her youngest daughter. "That's very sweet of you Claire-bear, but she is still very weak, so the doctors are only letting her have a very few visitors just now. Now girls, Keren is quite ill and Felicity is her friend and worried about her, so I would like you to be nice to her, by just being yourselves. The last thing she needs is everyone tip-toeing around her. But please don't ask her any awkward questions. If you want to know anything you can come to me and i'll try to help you, okay? Now how would you like me to tell you about my first Christmas in the Tyrol?"
"Oh yes please." exclaimed Marie-claire, clapping her hands excitedly.
"Well, I was pretty young then." said Jo, with a little laugh, "Only a year or two older than you are now Claire, and your Auntie Madge was only twenty four or so, the same age as Chas. We had Robin with us too, and she was just a little chubby angel of six. Apart from us three the whole Chalet was deserted, and outside everything was completely still, with snow lying right across the ground. It felt like we were in our own little world. It was a bit spooky at first, but after a while it felt so peaceful."
"Didn't you go stay with Tante Frieda?" interrupted Cecil.
"Hush little one! I was getting there, give me some time." laughed Jo.
"I don't like scenery much, I'm more interested in people." said Cecil adamantly.
"Well if you don't shut up Cece, we'll never get to the people in the story." pointed out Phil, less than politely.
"Shut up yourself Pippa."
"Girls! Girls! Get on with your sewing, and we'll just skip to the part where the three of us arrive in Innsbruck. Okay?" said Jo, defeated.
"Well Claire" ,carried on Jo, "We arrived in Innsbruck, tired and out of breath- we had walked almost the whole way down, and you know from our holidays at Die Blumen how far that is! Well we arrived, and the city was so beautiful in the snow. With sleighs going down the street, and all the shop windows beautifully decorated."
"Your still going on about the scenery, you're just doing it in a different place." complained Cecil.
"Cecil just because you have heard this story before that doesn't mean Claire and Daphne have."
Everyone looked at Daphne after Jo's mention of her, they had quite forgotten she was there.
"Anyway, we eventually reached the Mariahilfe where Frieda and her family stayed in an apartment on one of the higher floors. Daphne dear, Frieda is one of my oldest friends, as you can see from my age in this story," here she laughed, "and her daughters all went to the Chalet school."
"Gretchen was Head girl, but she's left now, and Lotta should be a Pree, but she's been off school for over a year, and Marienne the youngest is in the same form as Pippa." here Cecil laughed for no reason that Daphne could see.
Pippa grimaced loudly, but no one took any notice of her.
"Now shall I get on with this story?" asked Jo teasingly, "I would prefer an audience that is at least slightly interested."
"Oh Mamma are we hurting your vanity?" laughed Phil.
"Pippa Maynard! I'll scrag you for that!" shrieked Jo, momentarily looking like a schoolgirl again, as she jumped up from her armchair leaving her sewing in a dilapidated heap as she chased her daughter around the room.