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Author's Chapter Notes:

Real life intervened for a while - but this has been chugging along in the back of my brain - hope to add to it soon

thanks to all of you who have read and commented


 

“Madge!  Oh Madge, my lamb, how natural you look!  Joey Maynard dropped her bags and threw her arms around her sister.  Madge Russell embraced Joey with equal warmth and the two women hugged, damp-eyed until Jack Maynard intervened.

 

“Now, you two, its too cold for the kids to stand out here while you get the tears over” said Jack, taking his turn to greet Madge and shake hands warmly with Sir James.  The men seized the bags and took them inside, talking hard all the while.  “Shop!” said Joey, grimacing.  Madge laughed softly, “Jem has been longing to talk to Jack about his beloved San.” “Jack too,” agreed Jo.  “Jack has been as excited as the brats about this trip – I’ve told him he needn’t expect a Christmas gift from me, having Jem back is quite enough thrill for him!”

 

The younger Maynards had followed their father and uncle into the Quadrant, the lovely old home where Madge Russell’s twin, Dick, lived with his wife and their younger children and now the sound of footsteps came towards the sisters and Dick Bettany appeared to take his part in the reunion.  “I was in the den, Jo, and – woah! Leave me a little breath!”  Jo threw her arms around her brother before loosening an arm to pull Madge into the embrace.  “Oh Dick! Its so lovely to see you both together!”

 

When Lady Russell had written some months earlier to tell her sister that she and her husband were finally returning to England from their long sojourn in Australia, Jo had insisted that she and her husband and her long family travel to England for a real family Christmas.  “We simply must, Jack” she had argued.  “The triplets have left home now and Steve is more or less gone too.  There might not be many more Christmases when I can gather them all under the same roof!  The younger ones hardly know some of their cousins and its such an age since I saw Madge and Jem – and longer since we saw them with Mollie and Dick.”  Jack Maynard had laughed and taken little more persuasion.

 

Dick, once the greetings were finally over, explained that his wife, Mollie, had taken the younger members of the family to do their Christmas shopping and that the older members of the Maynard- Bettany-Russell families had gone for a good walk in the crisp December air.  “Apart from the triplets, who are arriving from London tomorrow, of course.  We’re going to be quite a houseful!” said Dick, joyfully. 

 

When the siblings had finally finished exclaiming and explaining, Jo was shown to her room and washed and settled her hair, changing her travelling clothes for a pretty woollen afternoon dress which she adjusted quickly with long, sensitive fingers.  Glancing in the mirror to ensure all was as tidy as possible, she ran downstairs to the big drawing room where a log fire was burning and an enormous, bare pine tree stood in long windows.  “Dick! What a tree!” exclaimed Jo. 

 

“Rix and David and Steve were responsible for that monster” said Madge, laughing.  “I rather think there was a point where they regretted their choice but it is magnificent.  I think Mollie wants us to dress it this evening once the youngsters are in bed or all of us tackling it might be rather too much of a good thing.” 

 

It was a joyful afternoon at the Quadrant.  Mollie Bettany returned with her youngest daughter, Daphne, who was thrilling with the importance of certain mysterious parcels they brought with them.  Shortly on their heels were the grown-up and nearly grown-up members of the younger generation, with much laughing and shedding of scarves, stamping of cold feet and calls for tea.

 

Finally, as even Steven Maynard shook his head at the last slice of fruit cake and Madge refused a fourth cup of tea, the door of the drawing room was flung open and three slim, pretty young women burst into the room.

 

“Len!” exclaimed Jo “and Margot – Con! I thought you weren’t arriving until tomorrow!”

 

“We couldn’t wait any longer” explained Con, releasing her father from the bear hug she had enveloped him in.  “When Margot and I met Len at Paddington we just thought – instead of spending the night in London we would come straight here.”

 

“It was a rush for the train” explained Len, beaming, “but we just did it!  I am so glad to see you Mamma, and Papa, and you three!”  She kissed her youngest siblings, Geoffrey and Phillipa, and little Marie-Claire, the last adoptee of the long Maynard family. 

 

Once the youngest members of the family were in bed and Dick, Jack and Jem retired to Dick’s den with the older boys, Madge, Jo and Mollie and the triplets began to dress the tree.  The work was punctuated with “do you remembers?” as decorations from the Bettanys’ childhood and from their happy years in the Tyrol were unpacked. 

 

The triplets, seeing that their mother and aunts were happily absorbed, retired to their shared room.  The Quadrant was a rambling old house with a great many rooms but not an inch of space could be wasted if the whole family were to be squeezed in.  Margot sat on her bed and laughed at her sisters.  “Shades of Matey!  She never did persuade us not to sit on beds!  What is the Matron like at Glendower House, Len?” 

 

“Not at all like Matey” said Len. “Motherly with the girls, although she has them well in hand.  We get on very well - Valerie Herring.  The girls call her ‘Kipper,’ although strictly not in a staff’s hearing!”   Margot and Con joined in her laughter. 

 

Len settled down to a comfortable gossip with her sisters, sharing her experiences of teaching and hearing about their lives in London. 

 

“I’m looking forward to next term and dreading it in about equal measures” confessed Len.  “I’m starting to feel I’m getting the hang of teaching – Miss Alton seems quite pleased, and Anna Schmit is excited about the possibilities of our exchange – but I can’t quite imagine being back at the Platz and sitting at the staff table and taking some of Mlle’s classes.  And its quite one thing teaching girls who scarcely realise my relationship to auntie Madge, but imagine teaching Felicity or Erica!”

The next day was Christmas Eve, and all thoughts of work or school were banished from everyone’s minds.  The excitement of the younger children at the forthcoming festival and the pleasure of their elders made for a happy day, crisp and bright.  After a brisk walk in the morning the family settled down to progressive games including an hilarious round of Book Reviews

 

After a simple supper, prepared with an eye to the feast to come the next day, the younger children were whisked to bed and the older members of the family settled down to reminisce until they gathered caps and scarves and gloves and set off under starlight to the midnight services, separating when they reached the little town and the Maynards going to the little Catholic Chapel whilst the Russells and Bettanys went to the Protestant Church. 

 

The family met again to walk home and as they crossed the silent town snow began to fall.  Joey and Madge, walking together, paused to gaze up at the sky.  “Shades of Innsbruck!” exclaimed Jo. 

 

“I always think of it at Christmas,” said Madge, softly, “That first year, with the Menschs, and the skiing and sledge ride, and the little beggar girl, Jo – “

 

“So much was lost so soon afterwards” said Jo, her huge dark eyes filling as she saw her first happy Christmas in the Tyrol through the dancing snowflakes, and thought of the hard war years that had followed.  Then she blinked, and focused on the family who surrounded her.  “But, oh Madge, we’ve so very much to be thankful for too!”

 




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