“Do you not think it is sad that we have no Christmas decorations here at school?”
“Well I suppose so, but it isn’t like we were actually here at Christmas is it?”
“Yes, and we do not decorate until Christmas Eve, I do not know what you do in your homes” said the quiet voice of Frieda Mensch, another occupant of the yellow dormitory. It was a Saturday morning in late November and the members of that dormitory had all awakened early. They were supposed to be reading quietly until the rising bell went, but instead Bianca had begun this conversation.
“The churches will put their cribs out before Christmas Eve though”, pointed out Marie Von Eschenau, “and many of the hotels and the houses too”.
“I wish we had a crib”, sighed Elisaveta, “it makes one think of the story of Christmas so much and it is jolly besides”.
“Why can’t we make one then?” asked Bianca “I’m sure Mademoiselle would let us and it should be simple enough, you could cut the stable out with the fret saw couldn’t you Joey?”
“Of course” said Joey impulsively “and we could stick it together with no trouble, look at that doll’s house. It’s a splendid idea Bianca”. She was on the verge of leaping out of bed at once to go and ask permission, before remembering that her older sister Madge was no longer the resident head of the school and that Mademoiselle would not take so kindly to being interrupted at this time of day.
“We had better ask permission later” said Joey “but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t start planning now. Do we want a traditional crib or one of the Tyrolean style ones?”
“A Tyrolean style one I should think”, said Margia Stevens, joining the conversation, “after all we are in the Tyrol – and if the Chalet School hadn’t been founded here then we wouldn’t be here to make a crib at all. Besides that’s bound to be easier than making one that’s supposed to look like Bethlehem”.
“The churches mostly have traditional cribs” said Frieda “but in their homes people have them in the Tyrolean style. And the school is a home for us isn’t it?”
“A Tyrolean crib it is then” said Joey, ever happy to assume the lead. ”What do we need besides the building and Mary and Joseph and the baby?”
“The shepherds of course”, said Simone, “do you not remember the Christmas play we gave of the youngest shepherd?”
“An’ the three kings and their flocks. And the angel” gabbled Evadne, the eighth occupant of the dormitory and the one least given to polite and formal speech.
“And the donkey” added Joey. “Could we use those toy animals of yours Marie?”
Marie shook her pretty head “I left them at home this term, I don’t seem to have time for them any more with all our other hobbies. Besides I think it would be better to make the whole thing ourselves.”
“That is an idea”, said Margia, “doing the whole thing ourselves would be so much better. Though perhaps we might let the others help rather than doing the whole thing with just us eight.”
Later that morning the elected representatives of the yellow dormitory went to Mademoiselle to request permission to build a Christmas crib. They had chosen Joey, who was their leader in all matters and, besides, would have the hard task of building the stable itself and Frieda who was thought by adults to be sensible and unlikely to get involved in the wild schemes that so attracted some of the others.
Mademoiselle granted her permission under certain conditions. Any girl who liked to was to be allowed to help with the crib making. All the work was to be done in hobbies club and not out of the time allotted for other things. Once it was finished the crib was to be displayed in the Saal so that all of the school could see it and enjoy it.
At the start of the hobbies club that afternoon the girls explained their plan to the others. Several of them had been able to keep quiet about it during guides and dinner and thus a good proportion of the school knew about it already. The Robin was thoroughly excited, she had a great love for all dolls and a great admiration of Joey that made her want a part of everything that girl did. She was at the front of the large crowd that clustered around Joey and the others begging to help.
“Let’s see”, said Joey thoughtfully, “I shall make the parts for the stable but Grizel had better put them together. She has her carpentry badge after all and she did a splendid job with the doll’s house”. Grizel Cochrane blushed slightly, she was not used to public praise – especially from Joey with whom she had a rather fractious relationship.
“Then, once Grizel has built it, Marie can paint it. She’s about the best at art isn’t she? Her painting on china is very good so I’m sure she could manage some Frescoes or something – like on a proper Tyrolean barn. The rest of you can start making the figures and the animals, plus the crib.”
Over the next few weeks the work progressed smoothly. The stable, thanks to the attentions of Joey, Grizel and Marie, looked splendid. It had been finished to a very high standard and did not look at all like the work of mere school girls. It had been proudly placed on the sideboard in the saal, with a white cloth under it so that the sideboard should not be marked.
The stable, and the area around it, had gradually been populated. The seniors had occupied themselves with making wooden animal carcasses which had been wrapped in wool or cotton wool and decorated by the juniors. The middles had made a crib for Jesus, some trees to surround the barn and various dolls to represent the shepherds, the three kings and the angel. Jesus himself had been made by the Robin, with great care - and help from Frieda.
Now, as the girls stood round their crib, there was only one thing missing. All their efforts to make a suitable Mary and Joseph had been in vain. Five different sets had been made by various people and all had been rejected, often to the relief of their creators who had been disappointed with their workmanship. They had all been too crude or too toy like and all the girls wanted them to be perfect. Now though, as they stood glumly around the sideboard, they were all beginning to think they would have to make the best of a bad job.
“None of them are too bad really”, said Joey, trying to sound optimistic.
“Simone’s are actually very nice”, said Margia brightly.
“So are Paula’s”, said Bianca encouragingly, “why not Paula’s Joseph and Simone’s Mary?”
Before anyone could reply to this, they were distracted by a shout that it had begun to snow. There had already been quite a lot of snowfall from the start of November onwards and the area around the Chalet School was thickly blanketed. Now though, there was a veritable blizzard, with the snow storming down as though it meant to cover the whole world.
“That is horrible snow”, said Simone, sounding tearful, “it is as though it will never stop.”
“Oh don’t be so wet”, said Evadne irritably, “of course it’ll stop”.
But the snow did not stop. It had begun to fall early in the afternoon and, by the time they sat down for Abendessen, it was still coming down as hard as ever. You could barely see a yard outside the windows and it was obviously going to be a serious job to get the juniors back over to le Petite Chalet for their bedtime. The staff were discussing how this was best to be done when there was a loud knock at the door.
“Who on earth can that be?” demanded Miss Maynard, “Surely none of the girls were crazy enough to go out in that, and I cannot imagine anyone choosing this moment to come and pay us a visit.”
The curiosity of the staff was answered a minute or so later when Marie appeared, leading a man whom none of them recognised. He was an older man with straggly white hair. He was dressed in the traditional Tyrolean style but was obviously not local. He was very evidently wet and cold, despite his clothing.
“Madame”, he addressed Mademoiselle “my name is Hans Schnee and I am bound for Achenkirch having walked from Fulpmes. Alas I have lost my way in this blizzard and I am hoping that you will help me. I have been wandering around for hours, indeed it is only thanks to God’s grace that I found your fence and then saw your lights.”
Mademoiselle paused, she had no appetite for throwing the stranger out into the snow but nor did she want a strange man in the house. However, there was that room off the kitchen where Eigen slept and that young man was both a light sleeper and a strong, quick, hand who could hold his own in any dispute. As if he was reading her thoughts, Hans Schnee shook his head softly “you need have no fear of me madam.”
Mademoiselle smiled, “even if I thought you would rob us of everything we own, I could not throw a man out into this weather. There is a room you can share with Eigen who works for us and I will send somebody up to the attics to find a spare mattress and some blankets so that you will rest in comfort”.
She led the man and Marie out into the corridor and to the door of the Saal. “Mary and Grizel”, she called, “can you two go to the attic and fetch one of the spare mattresses and bring it down to the kitchen. We have an unexpected guest for the night. And you, Rosalie, can go and ask Matron for a set of blankets and bring those down”.
Hans Schnee peered into the room “what a beautiful crib” he said, catching sight of that ornament.
“Oh do come and see it properly”, said the Robin, quite unafraid of the stranger. She grabbed his arm and led him to the sideboard.
“This is very nice”, said the man as he peered at it intensely. “But where are Joseph and the Virgin Mary?”
“We’ve umm, been having some trouble making them”, said Joey.
“We cannot make any that are good enough”, supplied Simone rather sadly.
Hans Schnee said nothing, but cast a critical eye over the other figures before following Marie away to the kitchen. The girls heard her laugh in response to something he said.
The snow continued to fall for all that night and the following day and the night that followed that. Never could you see the fence that enclosed the school, let alone beyond it. One or two of the more sensitive, or imaginative, girls had begun to echo Simone’s cries that it would never stop. Of Hans Schnee the girls saw nothing, he was presumed to be helping Eigen in his many tasks – all of which were made harder by the weather.
The following morning though dawned bright and clear and, when Joey went to the window of her cubicle soon after waking up she saw a set of footprints leading across the deep snow. Herr Schnee has gone then, she thought. The occupants of the yellow dormitory dressed quickly and dashed downstairs, hoping that they would be allowed to go out after breakfast even though the snow lay very thick.
On the sideboard, next to the crib, they found a sack and a sheet of folded notepaper. Joey unfolded the note and read it aloud.
“Dear Chalet School,
Thank you for taking me in and sheltering me from the storm. The good Lord will always look after those who take pity on strangers and poor travellers and I believe it was his will that showed me your lights and led me to your door. In the sack is my Christmas gift to you, accept it as a manifestation of God’s love for us all.
Hans Schnee, the wood carver of Fulpmes.”
Joey opened the sack gingerly, carefully unwrapping the folds of rough fabric from around whatever the wood carver had left them. Finally she drew out two beautifully carved wooden figure – one of Mary and one of Joseph. The Chalet School crib was complete at last.