“He sings a love song, as we go along, walking in a winter wonderland.” Jack Maynard hummed the romantic seasonal song to himself merrily as he strode optimistically up the snowy path which led to Die Rosen. Clutched in his right hand was a precious sprig of mistletoe, which he’d appropriated from a bunch hung over one of the doors at the San by a hopeful nurse. He wasn’t quite sure which one of the doctors she was after, but if it was Bruno von Ahlen then she was out of luck because Bruno only had eyes for Frieda Mensch. As for himself … well, surely Jo couldn’t refuse him a Christmas kiss under the mistletoe. Even if it were just a peck on the cheek, it’d be better than nothing, and who knew where it might lead? He’d been hanging around waiting for her long enough, and she wasn’t a schoolgirl any more. This could be just the opportunity he’d been waiting for.
Of course, he’d have to be subtle about it, not make it obvious that he’d brought the mistletoe home just for him and her, but he was sure he could manage that. Jo was pretty slow on the uptake about this sort of thing, after all – for heaven’s sake, all these years and she still didn’t seem to have realised how he felt about her! Well, with any luck all that was about to change!
“Jo,” he called when he’d taken off his coat and outdoor shoes. “Jo, are you there?”
A door opened, and a fair-haired young woman with large brown eyes walked into the hallway. “Is someone calling “Ju”? Oh, hello Jack! I thought it sounded like your voice. Were you looking for me … ooh, I say!” Her eyes lighted on the piece of mistletoe in his hand and a grin spread across her face. “Jack Maynard, you naughty man! You know very well that I’m engaged to Donal.”
“Oh, no, I didn’t mean to … er,” Jack stammered. “I was just … um …that is, I …” He stopped helplessly, because Juliet had put a finger on his lips to silence him. “It’s all right, Jack: it’s only a bit of Christmas fun, after all. And I won’t say no, because ... well, just between you and me, Donal’s a bit backwards in coming forwards in that department – honestly, I sometimes think he’s waiting for Kay to tell him what to do! – and I could really do with picking up a few tips in that area! Go on, then – so long as you don’t tell anyone afterwards, I’m all yours!” And, with that, she closed her eyes, raised her face to his, and pursed her lips - leaving Jack, who considered himself to be far too much of a gentleman to let a lady down, with little choice but to hold the mistletoe over their heads and observe the time-honoured Christmas tradition.
“Mmm,” Juliet murmured afterwards. “You know, Jack, that was really something. In fact, if I weren’t engaged to Donal …go on, quick, be off with you before I’m tempted to suggest we do it again!”
Jack didn’t need to be told twice. His face burning red, he exited the hallway as fast as his legs would carry him. Dear oh dear, he hadn’t meant that to happen! All he’d been trying to do was to find Jo! Maybe he’d better try rather more quietly from now on.
He thought he’d succeeded when he saw Madge coming out of the Saal. “I won’t be long: I’m just going to see how Marie’s getting on with the mince pies,” he heard her say to someone inside the room. “You don’t mind being left to your own devices for a few minutes, do you? Oh, evening Jack! Jem not with you?”
“Er, no, he’s with a patient: he said he’d be about an hour.” Jack only just about managed to get the words out. What luck! Not only had he found Jo, but she was clearly on her own. He waited until Madge was out of sight and then, affecting a casual swagger, made his way into the room which she’d just come out of.
“Evening!” he said, hoping that he sounded calmer than he felt. “Guess what? We’ve just been putting up some Christmas decorations at the San and … oh! Er, hello Grizel. How are you?” He groaned inwardly. Where was Jo?
“Oh, not so bad.” Grizel looked at him curiously. “Are you all right, Jack? You seem a bit … Jack Maynard, is that what I think it is?” Her eyes were fixed on his right hand. “It is, isn’t it? It’s mistletoe! Oh Jack, were you waiting until Madge was out of the way? You bad boy! Well, she’ll be a good few minutes, so that gives us plenty of time … come on then, let’s get cracking!”
Several minutes later, Jack emerged from the Saal visibly shaking. Whew! Grizel was certainly … well, “enthusiastic” was probably the politest word for it! It was a good job Madge had only said she was going to the kitchen and not that she was going out for the evening. He shook his head vigorously to try to get rid of that particular thought. Dear oh dear! The only saving grace was that Grizel’d said that nothing could ever come of it because her father’d have a fit at the thought of her marrying someone who was a different religion. Marrying! Marrying, for heaven’s sake! For crying out loud, it’d only been one kiss! Er, well, maybe more than one, but … ugh, he was really going to have to try to blot the whole thing out of his memory. And, in the meantime, where on earth was Jo?
A-ha! He heard footsteps heading in the direction of the room which Jem used as an study. Jo sometimes went in there to replenish her stock of stationery when she was working on a piece of writing. If he could just catch here whilst she was in there, there’d be no chance of them being disturbed: Jem wouldn’t be back for a good hour. “Third time lucky,” he murmured to himself, his spirits rising again, as he hastened along the corridor. “Come on, Jack, my lad – this time, you’re on!”
She’d left the study door open, but that was soon fixed. He walked into the room and pushed the door very firmly shut behind him – and the girl standing by Jem’s desk looked up at him in surprise. “Goodness, Jack, there’s no need to go around slamming doors like that! I know Jem usually keeps it shut, but I’ve only popped in here to leave these letters here for him to sign: he doesn’t like me leaving confidential things in his office at the San when he’s not in it … ooh!”
The letters she was holding in her hand all fluttered to the floor. “Oh, Jack! Now I understand why you were so keen to shut the door! Well, Jem’s not going to be home for a while yet, and no-one else is likely to come in here, so … well, let’s put that mistletoe to good use, shall we?”
Jack was a relieved man when he finally managed to escape from the study. Blimey! He’d always thought that Rosalie Dene was shy - well, he knew better now! And her a clergyman’s daughter as well. She’d said that they’d have to keep this as their little secret and try to make sure that it didn’t happen again because Jem didn’t allow relationships between staff at the San, but that certainly hadn’t stopped her from making the most of it whilst it lasted! Putting a finger to his bruised lips, he winced. Ouch! Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea after all. Maybe it had actually been a very bad idea. A very, very bad idea. Maybe he should just admit defeat and throw the mistletoe away, he thought, looking down at it gloomily. In fact, that was exactly what he was going to do. He was going to take it outside and put it in the big bin there, where he’d never have to see it again. He was going now.
And go he did. Unfortunately, as he did so, he was wrapped up in his thoughts that he didn’t notice the person coming the other way until he walked slap bang into her.
“Hey, Jack, look where you’re going, can’t you?” Jo cried indignantly. Then her tone changed as she saw the look on his face. “I say, is anything the matter? You look as if the cat’s just eaten your pet canary!”
“Jo!” he gasped. “Jo! No, nothing’s wrong! Everything’s right … well, it is now, anyway. I was just …”
“Just what?” she enquired with interest. “And what’s that you’ve got in your hand?” She peered at it curiously. “Good heavens, it looks like mistletoe! It is mistletoe, isn’t it? Were you about to chuck it in the bin?”
Jack’s composure had deserted him completely by this time. He looked from Jo to the mistletoe and then back to Jo, trying desperately to find the right words and failing completely. “Er, well, yes,” he stuttered. “But …”
“Jolly good idea,” Jo said approvingly. “The berries can be poisonous, you know. Don’t want any of the babies putting them in their mouths, do we? Besides, some people do have these stupid ideas about kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas, and I hear enough sloppy love talk without having to watch people slobbering all over each other right left and centre. Marie writes the most awful tosh about Eugen in her letters sometimes, and the latest thing is that Simone gone all gaga over some army officer she’s met in Paris! Good job that there are still people like you and me to stand up for the cause of common sense, eh, Jack?”
Jack sighed. “Isn’t it just?” he muttered, as she disappeared in the direction the house. He took one last look at the mistletoe, and then opened the bin and flung it inside. Wretched stuff! He wished he’d never clapped eyes on it.
But Jack wasn’t the sort of chap who stayed downhearted for long. He’d waited this long, he told himself as he went into the house, and he supposed it wouldn’t kill him to wait a bit longer. Jo’d come round eventually; he was sure of it. He could try again. In fact, thinking about it, there were only eight weeks to go before Valentine’s Day …