Dr and Mrs Smallthorne arrived at the school sooner than anyone could have hoped and were shown into Miss Alton’s study. “How is Jemima?” asked Mrs Smallthorne, anxiously, scarcely pausing to greet the Head.
“She is in the San with her form mistress, Miss Maynard, as she gave herself rather a headache with crying earlier. She has been very unhappy,” said Miss Alton gravely “but I hope that you will be able to help put things straight for her. I will show you to the San immediately, I know that you will be anxious to see her.”
The worried parents followed the Head to the San where they found Jemima staring dejectedly out of the window whilst Len sat nearby.
“Oh my darling, I am so very sorry!” exclaimed Mrs Smallthorne, rushing forward to embrace the girl. Len saw Jemima freeze at the touch and with a murmured “excuse me please” followed Miss Alton from the room.
“Thank you Len” said Miss Alton as they paused in the corridor outside. “I hope that the Smallthornes will put this right with Jemima and this will be the turning point for her. She is not a girl who shares confidences easily, she must feel that she can trust you to have told you so much.”
Len coloured at the praise. “I hope that she will soon be happier” she said simply.
Meanwhile Dr and Mrs Smallthorne told Jemima the story of her adoption. Dr Smallthorne had been called to attend her birth and found her mother a young girl who was frighteningly alone in the world. The neighbour who was with her could tell the doctor that she had neither parents nor relatives, and nothing was known of her husband who had died a month before.
The young mother had only survived long enough to hold and name her baby. The doctor had been left to make arrangements for the baby and, believing that he and his wife could not have children of their own, took her home with him. The adoption had taken place shortly afterwards.
“You were always my own daughter” said Mrs Smallthorne, sadly, “and I didn’t want to overshadow your childhood with tragedy, or for you to feel different to your friends. So we did not tell you and then as you started to grow up – I suppose that we almost forgot. You could not be any more loved, Jemima, and you have always been our own girl.”
Dr Smallthorne, bright eyed, nodded, “we did it for the best, sweetheart, and I am so very sorry you have had to suffer for our mistake.”
Jemima, reassured despite herself by the warmth and love surrounding her, took her courage in both hands and asked the question which had haunted her all term, “but – Donny and Daisy – you won’t – now you have them.”
Mrs Smallthorne took her hands. “Donny and Daisy love their big sister. They need you to set them a good example! And we love you, darling, and they don’t change that.”
A lot more talk followed until Jemima’s head began to drop with tiredness and the emotion of the day. Mrs Smallthorne, seeing Jemima relax with her father’s arm around her and her head on his shoulder, squeezed her arm and went to find the Head.
Matron, emerging from her small office, showed Mrs Smallthorne to the study where she found Miss Alton with Len Maynard.
“Oh, please don’t go, Miss Maynard” exclaimed Mrs Smallthorne as the young mistress prepared to leave. “I want to thank you for helping Jemima – she says that you made her tell you what was troubling her - and I want to tell you both the story now.”
Mrs Smallthorne told the story she had told Jemima. “I want to take her home for a few days, if I may” she explained. “She had such a miserable half term and has cried so much today I think she will be better for a few quiet days at home. I have a few things I can show her, too. There is not very much, but I have a photograph of her parents and her mother’s rings for her.”
The Head agreed readily that Jemima would benefit from a break from school and offered the Smallthornes the guest room in school for the night. This was refused, with more thanks, as Mrs Smallthorne wanted to return home to the twins and explained that the doctor never minded driving at night.
Len absented herself to tumble the few things Jemima needed into her overnight bag and proceeded to the San with it. The doctor had gone into Matron’s room with his wife for a few words with the Head.
Len smiled at her pupil “Okay?” she asked, casually.
“Yes, thank you Miss Maynard” said Jemima. “Thank you for getting my things and for – everything. And – I’m sorry, about this morning.”
Len nodded. “I am going to remit my punishment, and I rather think that if I ask her Laura will do the same” she said “and when you come back we will start afresh, shall we?”
Jemima nodded. “Yes, thank you.”
Jemima spent more than a fortnight at home for, arrived there, she had something close to a breakdown. Quiet days, plenty of milk and sleep, and answers to the questions which had troubled her gradually steadied her nerves and as she began to come to terms with her story the tumbling, eager twins and their ready affection started to overcome her resentment. When she returned to school she seemed to have grown older, but the burning anger had gone, and she was well on the way to becoming the sort of girl that the school could be proud of.
Jemima returned to a school thrilling with excitement over the Christmas play. As promised, Madame had written the play and everyone was delighted with it and rehearsals were soon in full swing. Jemima, who had expected that her absence would lead her without any part, found herself with a few lines to speak as a lady shopping at the Christmas market and threw herself into rehearsals and to making up the work she had missed and as a result was far too busy to brood, which was just what her form mistress had intended.
The play gave the story of one of the school’s favourite carols, Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht. The play told how in the tiny hamlet of Obernhorf the local priest, Josef Mohr, found that the church organ was broken and could not be repaired in time for the Christmas Eve Mass. Anxious to ensure that there was music to celebrate the coming of Christ, he wrote the words to the hymn and his friend, Franz Gruber, wrote the well-known tune for guitar and viola to Josef Mohr’s words and the beautiful hymn was born.
Interwoven with the story of the carol were scenes showing the people of Obernhorf preparing for Christmas. The play was to open with crowds shopping at a picturesque market and discussing their purchases before ‘Josef Mohr’ rushed through the crowds to find his friend and tell him of his terrible discover.
The choir would then sing its first hymn, Once in Royal David’s City whilst the scene changed.
The next scene showed ‘Franz Gruber’ working hard at his composition whilst in the next house a family decorated the tree and children laid out their shoes for the Christ child to fill.
As the scene changed, the choir, before the curtain, were to sing Whilst Shepherds Watched.
The third scene showed a family gathered for the traditional Austrain Christmas Eve meal of carp before a tinkling bell led the excited children into another ‘room’ where presents were laid in their shoes and under the beautifully lit Christmas tree.
Finally, the lights in the Hall were turned out and the crowd, carrying lanterns, were to walk slowly towards the stage. The set would be changed to represent the interior of the little church and singing Oh Come All Ye Faithful.
The crowd then gathered in the church and ‘Josef Mohr’ spoke words of welcome before the choir and crowd sang, very simply, the beautiful words of Mohr’s carol.
Finally, there was to be the Nativity scene which ended all Chalet School Christmas plays, and the school and audience would sing together the lovely Adeste Fideles.
Len, busy with classes and pressed into service to assist with the preparations for the play kept a watchful eye on her troublesome pupil. The girl was no longer impudent to staff and prefects, but Len saw a curiously adult air to the girl. "She is happier, but I don't believe that she is happy" thought the young mistress.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Thank you for your lovely comments.
Chapter End Notes:
Edited to correct the chronology - I had intended this to give the story of the play but not be the actual play - and hope this makes sense now.