Breakfast the next morning was a rowdy affair. With the snow still falling about them, Jack sat at the top of the table, sipping his coffee leisurely.
"Mamma, what shall we do today?" asked Cecil, as she scoffed her toast.
Beside her Daphne was delicately nibbling at hers.
"No idea." said Jo calmly.
"Oh." said Cecil.
"No Pippa." said Jo suddenly.
"What?" asked Pippa, wide-eyed. "I never said a word."
"No, but I saw that look in your eyes, and I am forbidding you from whatever prank you were considering."
"Oh" said Pippa, looking downcast.
"Christmas Pudding?" begged Cecil.
"Ask Anna." was Jo's prompt reply.
"I'm not cooking. It's girly." said Geoff, wrinkling up his nose.
"No one asked you." pointed out Cecil.
"Cookings not really girly." said Roddy consideringly, "All the best Chefs are men."
"No they are not!" exclaimed Cecil indignantly.
"Name, a really good female chef." asked Roddy.
"Anna." Marie-Claire replied immediately.
"Anna's not a chef." scoffed Geoff.
"Anna's the best cook I've ever met." exclaimed Marie-claire loyally.
"She's got you there." agreeed Jo, "For I very much doubt that any of you have had better food than some of the things Anna can create."
"You'll love Anna's food." said Felicity to Daphne, "Karen's up at the school is good, but Anna's is heaven. It's why Mamma's so fat!"
"FELICITY MAYNARD!" exclaimed Jo outraged, whilst everyone else, even Daphne, laughed.
For Jo, despite having eleven children, was still almost as boney as she had been as a schoolgirl.
"How about today, we all just find our own things to do?" asked Jo, when the giggles had subsided, "And then tomorrow if it's still like this, we can consider thinking out a plan of attack?"
Cecil, with Phil, Marie-Claire and Daphne in tow, went in search of Anna. At first Daphne had been about to slink up to her room, but Cecil had begged her to join them.
Jo had disappeared into the study, ostensibly to finish a chapter of her novel, but really to curl up with an old and extremely battered copy of Little women.
Roddy and Seth, were going up to the Attic with Geoff, and pretending that they were only helping him with his Meccanno because they had nothing better to do.
Felicity had disappeared to her room to practise her singing, and Felix was next door, learning his part in the school play.
As everyone else was scurrying off busily, Jack put his feet up, and took out a long letter from his twin Mollie Maynard, which he was long overdue in replying too. However within a few minutes he was dozing, and within half an hour he was snoring away.
Jo ordered everyone to be quiet when going past the Saal, and left him to catch up on all his lost sleep.
To their great surprise Anna agreed readily to let them use her Kitchen, although Cecil had a sneaky suspicion that it was because Anna had heard Marie-Claire calling her the best cook ever. She showed them where all the ingredients were before leaving them with a final warning that the Kitchen had better be tidy when she came back.
"Okay Pippa you can beat the eggs, we used five in school. Marie-Claire if you can grate the the nutmeg? I'll get the scales and me and Daphne can measure all the fruit out."
"Who made you the boss?" asked Pippa.
"Me." was Cecil's calm reply.
Things were quiet for a few minutes, until there was a squeal from Pippa.
"What is it Pip?" exclaimed Cecil, who had up until now had felt that this was going really quite well.
"Oh yuck." said Marie-Claire who could see what her sister had done.
Pippa had been cracking the eggs, and she had done the first three with no problems at all, but the fourth one had cracked on the wrong side of the bowl, and there was runny egg on the surface, and all down one of Pippa's legs.
"Maybe we should have worn aprons" said Cecil eventually.
Marie-Claire burst out laughing.
"It's a bit late now!" pointed out Pippa exasperatedly.
"For you maybe." said Cecil giggling, "But not for the rest of us!"
"Cece!" exclaimed Pippa dismayedly.
They cleaned up Pippa by the simple method of lifting her skirt into the sink and running hot water over it. Then Cecil made Pippa stand in front of the open oven until the skirt was mostly dry.
They eventually got everything measured out, and into the giant bowl. Then they all took a turn at stirring the stiff measure.
"Have we remembered everything?" asked Cecil at last when they all had sore arms.
"It's your recipe." pointed out Pippa.
Marie-claire just nodded, taking her hand guiltily out of the mixture.
"What do you think Daphne?" asked Cecil at last, reminding her sisters that there were actually four people in the Kitchen.
Daphne looked like she wanted to say something.
"What has the idiot left out?" asked Pippa grinning.
"The brandy." murmured Daphne.
"Scoot and get it will you Pippa?" asked Cecil, "I knew I had forgotten something, Frau Meiders said a real Christmas pudding should have brandy in it, but we didn't put any in the school ones."
Phil returned with the Brandy, which she had calmly removed from a cupboard in the dining room.
"How much do we put in?" she asked.
Cecil looked blank. Frau Meiders hadn't given them an amount.
"I don't know." she admitted. "What do you think Daphne?"
But Daphne just shrugged her shoulders, she had helped her mother make a Christmas pudding a few times, but she had no idea how much Brandy went in.
"Well we can just dribble in a little bit and see what looks right." suggested Cecil.
Cecil poured some in, but in the vast mixture it looked like hardly any, so she kept pouring.
"Do you think thats enough?" she asked.
Eventually they agreed it was enough, and with a final stir of the slightly squidgy pudding, they covered it and put it in to steam.
"Now we just leave it." said Cecil.
They had great fun clearing up, but they were grateful they had put on the aprons in the end, for all the mess they cleaned off the floor, and the surfaces, seemed to have landed on them.
When Jo came into the Kitchen the place was sparkling, and the grils were looking quite proud of themselves.
"Did you get any Pudding in the basin?" was her first question however.
"Mamma, we cleaned everything up." said Cecil sounding offended. But then she glanced around at the others, and she had to start giggling.
"Daphne you even have some in your ear!" she giggled, at first Daphne just looked embarassed, but then she saw the friendly laughing faces around her and she burst out laughing too.
"Well at least I don't have it all over my nose!" she exclaimed.
Jo grinned brightly at this, but all she said was, "Go get changed pets, and I'm just teasing I'm sure your efforts will be well worth it."
Once they had trooped out she lifted the covering curiously, and almost keeled over. It was absolutely reeking of alcohol. Jo however was no cook, and she just presumed this was because the pudding was boiling away.
Jo covered it back over and went into the Saal to wake Jack.
"Jo" he said blearily, as he opened his eyes, "Have you been... drinking?"
"No, no" she assured him hastily, "It was just the children."