The two girls went down the stairs together, Cecil trying to tone down some of her natural exuberance, and Daphne trying to pretend she wasn't terrified and homesick. The scene they met when they got downstairs was enough however to put a smile on both the girls faces.
Marie-claire was unwinding a long roll of paper streamers, and Phil- balanced somewhat precariously on the back of the settee- was hanging them round the walls from the lights. Felicity was decorating the tree, with the beautiful and decidedly varied, christmas decorations which were a mixture of wood carvings, delicate glass, and homemade card ones. Marie-claire was calling out her commands to both girls, confusing them both by not saying whom she meant.
"More left?" gasped Phil, "Wait till I leap to the windowsill..."
"No Pippa!" moaned Marie-claire, "Fliss must move the pink bauble thingy left- swap it with the giraffe Fliss- Pip you go more to the right I think."
"Right... right... of course right.. what was I thinking?" muttered Phil rebelliously as she bounded back onto the settee, almost upsetting the whole thing.
"Hey bossy." said Cecil as she entered the room, ruffling her little sister's hair. "Where's Mamma?"
Felicity giggled. "Anna's telling her off! Mamma left all her clothes in a heap and Anna's going to have to re-iron them now."
Cecil gurgled appreciatitively. "Serves her right, for all those times she's told us off for being careless."
"Are you just going to stand there looking like a lunatic or are you going to help?" asked Felicity meditatively.
"Yes commander!" replied Cecil cheekily, "What can I do for you Sir?"
Felicity shook her head. "Stop being silly for a start, and then if you are feeling particuliarly generous you could get me the steps."
Cecil saluted, and left the room.
"Silly ass" said Felicity, although she was laughing, "You couldn't pass me something Daphne could you?"
Daphne, who had been hoping to hide in a corner, was now finding herself unexpectedly in the spotlight.
"What would you like?" she asked shyly.
"Your choice, anything from that big box there. And don't let little Claire boss you about now." she said, with a fond smile at her little sister.
"I'm not bossy!" exclaimed Marie-Claire indignantly.
"Of course you're not." said Phil, joining in, "Now instead of instructing everyone, could you please pass me some more of those garlands."
With Phil once more dangling at a dangerous angle, Marie-Claire busy untangling the paper chains, and Felicity standing on the step-ladders gazing at the tree critically, Cecil and Daphne were free to do what Cecil complained was the most boring job.
"I hate sorting through all this junk." she pronounced, after a few moments of silence.
"It's not junk, it's all old and beautiful." said Felicity her voice floating down.
"Then why don't you do it?" asked the irrepressible Cecil.
"Because you are too small, even on the stepladders you wouldn't be able to reach the top." pointed out Felicity.
"I think you should use this one."
Everyone turned and stared at Daphne, it was the first time she had voluntarily said anything since she had arrived.
"Pass it up." said Felicity, once she had recovered. "Oh this is one of my favourites too, it's one of the one's Mamma got when she was still at school, they went on a camp, I forget where, and they visited a village, where a famous carpenter lived, I forget his name, anyway thats a likeness to one of his carvings."
"Thanks for that very informative explanation Fliss" chuckled Cecil.
"Yes, I am in awe at the wealth of your knowledge." agreed Phil, snorting.
"Ughh Phil that was gross!" exclaimed Cecil.
"Do it again!" demanded Maire-claire, her eyes bright.
"Baby" commented Cecil.
"No more than you" pointed out Marie-claire.
"She has a point you know." said Felicity.
"Humph." said Cecil, although her eyes were sparkling. "I don't know where you could have got the idea that I was anything but an oracle of maturity?"
"Umm Cece, I don't know about mature, but i'm pretty sure an oracle is someone who can predict the future, or give brilliant advice or something."
"Are you saying i'm not these things?" asked Cecil indignantly.
There was silence for a moment as everyone digested this, then there was a huge explosion as they all burst out giggling.
Daphne looked bewildered for a moment, but then her lips creased up too, and as the laughter bacame more infectious, she too started to giggle.
Yes, thought Cecil smiling wider, she would be a laugh when they dragged her out of her shell. At least she hoped so...
"What is all the laughter about?" asked Jo, arriving at the door.
"Laundry, all done?" asked Pippa in an innocent voice.
Jo's lips opened and shut, but no noise came out. The girls took full advantage of this, for it was not often that they floored their Mother.
"So Felicity, don't you agree that Mamma was quite right to make you re-iron that dress when you let it get all crushed?" asked Cecil.
"Oh yes" replied Felicity seriously,"I could hardly be mad, when I know that Mamma only ever leads by example. She would never ask us to do anything she wouldn't do herself. That's why I knew she wasn't being too hard on me."
Jo's eyes widened.
"Cheeky brats" she said regaining her tongue, with a vengeance. "I am seriously considering making you do that ironing for me Felicity. Or at least I would if I hadn't just done it myself. Because I always lead by example, and it isn't fair to give people more than their fair share of work, just because you have been careless."
"Don't look at me like that Phil!" she said grinning, "You fully deserve all the preaching I can give you, after the teasing you just tried to give me... Phil get down from there!" she exclaimed, suddenly realising that her daughter was perched perilously.
Phil slithered down, and peace reigned, for perhaps a full minute.
"YEOWWW!" shrieked Cecil.
Jo just about hit the roof, and Phil, who had covertly clambered back up on top of the settee, fell back- luckily not onto the floor.
Cecil ran out of the room, and could be heard thundering up the stairs.
"What on earth" wondered Jo aloud.
Daphne opened her mouth to say something, but changed her mind, the last few minutes had been rather too much for her.
"Mamma look! She will go on the top of the tree won't she?" asked Cecil excitedly if rather breathlessly, as she fell rather than walked back into the room.
"Cecil! Where did you get this?" asked Jo sharply, as she took the doll.
"It's beautiful isn't it? Daphne made it all by herself." said Cecil proudly.
"Wow" said Fliss, jumping off the steps. "Daphne, this is amazing."
"Daphne?" asked Marie-claire, sounding shyer than anyone had ever heard her before, "Will you make a doll for me? I know i'm too old but please?"
"Maire-claire! You can't ask Daphne to make you a doll." exclaimed Jo.
But Daphne was beaming.
"Of course I will." she said kindly, "It might not be very good though." she added doubtfully.
"Of course it will." said Cecil decidedly, "But Mamma's right, you don't need to make it for Claire."
"No, I would like too." she replied shyly.
"Thank you" said Marie-claire excitedly, "Wait. You won't tell the boys will you?"