Daisy Venables, who was spending Christmas Eve at the Round House to enable her to attend the midnight service with her uncle and aunt and then open her presents with her younger sister in the morning, tiptoed cautiously up the stairs to wash her hands and face before setting out for church. Should she take a quick peek in at Primula, she wondered? No, better not: she didn’t want to risk waking her. Auntie Madge was anxious that the younger children should get a good night’s sleep before the long and exciting day to come tomorrow: they’d all been packed off to bed even earlier than usual this evening, and would have been fast asleep for hours by now.
At least, they ought to have been fast asleep for hours by now As she reached the top of the stairs, sounds reached Daisy’s ears which suggested anything but! Moving rapidly along the corridor, she soon ascertained that the noise seemed to be coming from the room shared by Peggy and Bride. And, pushing open the door, she found inside the room not only the two who were entitled to be in there but also Rix, David, Sybil, Jackie and Primula herself, all wide awake and all sitting on Peggy’s bed!
“What on earth’s going on?” she demanded. Then, belatedly, she realised that two-year-old Josette must still be slumbering, and moderated the volume of her voice if not its tone. “If Auntie Madge and Uncle Jem and Rosa find out that you’re all out of bed at this time you’ll be for it, the lot of you! You’re supposed to be asleep: it’s Christmas Day tomorrow … oh, I get it.” Suddenly it all made sense. Well, why else would a group of children have decided to stay up late on Christmas Eve?
“He won’t come anywhere near the place whilst you’re awake, you know,” she said solemnly. “It’s no good, trying to stay up to see him. He won’t come until you’re all asleep.”
“We know that,” Sybil, the youngest of them – Jackie, who would celebrate his birthday as well as Christmas tomorrow, was her elder by a few months - said unhappily. “But the problem is … the problem is that we don’t think he’s going to come at all.”
Daisy looked suspiciously at Rix and David. She supposed she wouldn’t be entirely surprised if one of the older boys at their school had seen fit to disabuse them of their belief in the man with the red suit and the white beard, but surely they wouldn’t have been mean enough to spoil things for the others, especially the little ones. However, she saw nothing on either of their faces to suggest that they were responsible for Sybil’s pronouncement, and she turned back to the others feeling rather bemused.
Unless … well, at this time of year, people were always issuing reminders that Father Christmas only brought presents for boys and girls who’d been good. Had they all been up to some sort of mischief which they’d somehow managed to conceal from the adults? Well, if so, she certainly didn’t want to hear all the details this evening! Well, not unless it was something really serious, anyway. Assuming that it wasn’t, her priority for now had to be to reassure them that they were worrying unnecessarily and then to get them all straight back to bed before any of the adults could catch them.
“Look,” she began. “If any of you have done something naughty, I’m sure he’ll understand and he’ll still come. We’re not expected to be perfect, you know! And you’ve been good most of the time, haven’t you? Well, fairly good!”
“Oh, we’ve all been good these last few weeks,” Bride assured her earnestly. “Well, except for when Sybs pushed Jackie in that puddle, and she did say she was sorry. And, anyway, it was partly his fault for pulling her hair. None of us’ve done anything really bad for ages. It’s not because of anything we’ve done. It’s because of the war.”
So that was it! One or other of them must have heard someone saying that no-one’d be getting as many presents as usual this year because of the rationing situation. It was certainly possible. People were doing their best to give their families as good a Christmas as possible, but inevitably it wasn’t going to be quite the same as it was normally when so many things were in such short supply.
“Father Christmas and the elves won’t have stopped making presents because of the war,” she assured them. “They might not have been able to get hold of enough things to make quite as many presents as they’ve done in other years, but they’ll definitely have made enough for everyone to get something. So there really isn’t anything to worry about. Trust me. And the sooner you get back to bed, the sooner he’ll come.”
She looked at them all expectantly. Nobody moved. Now what, she wondered.
“We know that there aren’t likely to be as many presents as usual,” Peggy informed her. “Rosa told us that when we wrote our lists – the ones to send to Father Christmas, I mean. We didn’t even ask for very much, because we know it’s bad to expect to get lots of new things when there’s a war on. But she said that we’d still get some presents, because it’d take more than a war to stop Father Christmas getting through. Only we were talking about it before, and we just don’t see how he’s going to be able to get here. I mean, how’s he even going to be able to see where he’s going when there are no lights on anywhere?”
Daisy thought quickly. She certainly hadn’t bargained on all this when she’d come upstairs to freshen up! “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” she said firmly. “Reindeer can see in the dark. A lot of animals can, you know. It’ll take more than the blackout to stop Father Christmas doing his job! And,” she wound up triumphantly, “it didn’t stop him last year, did it? So why should it stop him this year?” There! That should settle the matter.
No such luck! “But last year there were no air raids,” David pointed out. “There are bombers flying around in the sky most nights now. What if he can’t get the sleigh out of the North Pole because it’s too dangerous?”
Rix suddenly sat up very straight. “I’ve just had a really horrible thought. What if he tries to get through but his sleigh gets hit by a bomb?”
Sybil burst into tears. “Oh for heaven’s sake, Rix, what did you have to go and say that for?” Daisy snapped, dropping on to the bed and trying to comfort her little cousin. “Come on, Sybs, don’t cry. Of course Father Christmas’s sleigh isn’t going to get hit by a bomb. I’ve never heard anything so silly!” Seeing that Rix was looking rather blue himself, she hastily softened her tone. “Oh look, Rix, I didn’t mean to have a go at you! But … well, it was a very silly thing to say, wasn’t it? Because … well, because the North Pole’s neutral. That means that it isn’t in the war. Like America, and Switzerland, and lots of other countries. And no-one’s allowed to attack boats or planes or sleighs or anything else if they’re from neutral countries. They can get into a lot of trouble if they do.
“And – well, think about it. There’s no way that anyone would want to attack Father Christmas. Because he takes presents to children in every country in the world. The war doesn’t change that: nothing could ever change that. And so, you see, there’s no reason for him not to come. And there’s no reason he won’t get through safely. No reason at all.”
“Really?” Jackie was looking much more hopeful now. “Is that true? You’re not saying it just to get us to go back to bed?”
“Daisy wouldn’t say something just to get us to go back to bed,” Primula told him indignantly. She looked at her sister trustingly. “If Daisy says that Father Christmas’ll definitely be coming, then he’ll definitely be coming.”
“And it does make sense that nobody’d be allowed to stop him coming,” Bride said thoughtfully. “After all, it’s Christmas in Germany and Austria and Italy and everywhere else as well.”
David nodded in agreement. “I think,” he pronounced, “that we might all have been worrying about nothing. Only,” he added doubtfully, looking at the clock on the wall, “if we don’t go to sleep very quickly then he’ll’ve finished all his deliveries in England and gone off somewhere else - and we’ll’ve got missed out.”
“I’m going back to bed,” Jackie said decidedly. He jumped off Peggy’s bed and landed on the floor with a thud. “Race you,” he called, as he headed for the door. “Last one back to their own bedroom’s a sissy! Come on, everyone! We need to get to sleep. And just think – when we wake up, Christmas’ll be here! It’ll be Christmas Day! And Father Christmas will have been after all!”
“You were an age getting ready, Daisy,” Madge Russell remarked, as she, Daisy and Jem made their way carefully along the road in the dark twenty minutes later. “Whatever took you so long?”
“Oh, I was just, er …, whoops, thank you, Uncle Jem!” Daisy was saved from having to think of a reply by an uneven paving stone which nearly sent her flying. Luckily, her uncle grabbed her in time to break her fall.
“I think we’d better stop talking and just concentrate on getting to church safely,” Jem said firmly. “It’s pitch black out here. Look at that sky! The moon must be hidden behind a cloud and there’s barely a single star to be seen.”
But Daisy, glancing heavenwards a moment later, could have sworn that she saw something bright up there, moving in the direction of the Round House. It had to be just her imagination, of course, but from where she was standing it looked very much like a sleigh.
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