"Christmas time" sang Cecil Maynard as she bounded down the front stairs of her School.
"Cecil Maynard! Is that the correct way to descend the stairs?" asked Miss Annersley sternly.
"No, not at all Miss Annersley." replied Cecil meekly, but then her merriness broke out, "Oh Auntie Hilda! It's Christmas, and it will be heavenly! Don't you just want to run and skip and sing too?"
Miss Annersley laughed at her brevet niece's excitement.
"One would never imagine that you were almost sixteen Cecilia."
Cecil's younger sisters came dancing up at this.
"Cecilia, Cecilia, Cecilia Marya, Cecilia, Cecilia." they sang dancing around their sister.
"Aargh! Don't call me that" pleaded Cecil covering her ears.
But the over-exuberant sisters had spotted their head-mistress.
"Oh Auntie Hilda" clap clap, "Auntie Hilda, We wish you a Merry Christmas, Auntie Hilda, Auntie Hilda, Oh we wish you a Merry Christmas, Auntie Hilda, oh Hilda- join in Cecil!".
Cecil joined in grabbing a hand each of her two sisters, and they formed a ring around Miss Annersley.
"Girls, honestly.." protested Misss Annersley.
But the sisters just ignored her, singing louder..
Miss Annersely was only freed when Cecil spotted her older sister.
"Fliss! What took you so long? We've been waiting!" she asked indignantly.
"Don't be grumpy Cecey we're going home now!"
The reason for their overwhelming joy was that they had very nearly missed Christmas at home this year. None of the girls had seen their parents for almost two months as the whole household had been in quarantine for measles, and then at the last moment, in the final week of quarantine Rosli had decided to come down with it too. Quarantine had only ended last night, and the girls had already been cooped up in the school for two days of their Christmas holidays by this point.
Now, Miss Annersley watched smiling as the four girls trudged along the snow packed path to go home.
Felicity led the way, tall and slim with silvery blonde hair. She was in her last year of school, being eighteen and one of the elite group of Prefects. Cecil skipped along behind her, small, with a thick brown fringe and plump, freckled cheeks, and with her eyes dancing, she certainly did not look like the senior that she was. Phillippa followed, her long red pigtails streaming behind her as she shouted back to little Marie-Claire. Phil had been delicate for the first years of her life, but in a fit of rebellion she had run away, walking the length of the alm and back, and arriving home in no worse a condition than she had left in. She had demanded to go to school, or else she would get a house of her own and live like Pippi Longstocking! Forever after she was teased and called Pippa, but she got to go to school like she longed for. Marie-Claire was at the end of the jolly line, and with her rosy cheeks and bouncing brown curls no one would ever have known of her sad start in life.
"Deck the halls with boughs of Holly." sang Felicity as she unfastened the gate, hung with holly branches.
"Fa la la la la la la la." hollered back the younger girls.
"Oh my babies!" was the replying shriek to this. As the big front door, with a huge wreath hanging from it, swung open.
"Mamma" cried the girls, throwing themselves at their Mother.
"Oh I have missed you all." cried Joey hugging them all at once.
Then she grabbed them each singly.
"Felicity, your hair! It's lovely. You do look old though! How is the singing? I heard you were wonderful in the play." said Jo proudly.
"Oh Cecey! Laughing as ever! How I have missed those giggles!"
"Pippa sweetie, you are almost as tall as Flissy now. Poor Cecey, soon you will be the smallest of all! Now wheres my Claire-bear?"
"Mamma" complained eleven year old Claire although she was beaming.
"Let's see you Baby. Are you growing your curls? Oh you do look so old all of you!" exclaimed Joey, as she hugged her youngest, surrepititiously wiping away a tear.
"Now you must come through to the Saal, silly me forgetting for a moment there!" said Jo, momentarily creasing her brow, "Now, boots off, and you shall all come through. Remember my letter earlier this term?"
With this Jo ran back to the Saal looking rather guilty, and the sisters were left together.
The girls had received a letter from their parents a few months ago, just before the epidemic, telling them that their delicate, home schooled, shy cousin would be joining them for Christmas before starting the school.
"Oh I forgot" said Pippa sitting down on the stair to tug at her boots.
"Untie your laces Pip!" exclaimed Fliss, "and I think we all did for a moment."
"It's 'cos we all missed Mamma so much." put in Marie-Claire.
"Yes, well what do you think she will be like?" asked Cecil seriously.
"She's the same age as you." said Fliss.
"Well then I hope she's not a bore! I want to enjoy my Christmas!"
"Cecey! She's our cousin." said Fliss, who was undoubtedly the most conscientious of the girls.
"I know! But you won't be stuck with her all the time will you?" pouted Cecil.
"We won't leave you alone with her" promised Marie-Claire, "Even if she's horrid."
"Thanks Claire" said Cecil, "What do you think Pip?" for that sister had been unusually quiet.
"Well I feel sorry for her." said Pippa decidedly, "You all don't know what it's like to be delicate! And at least I escaped when I was ten. She's sixteen. She probably doesn't even know what fun is yet!"
"Well she will discover it soon enough in this house!" pointed out Felicity, standing up, "and we'll all do our best to help you Cece, won't we?"
The girls all nodded.
"Okay, now let us go meet our mystery cousin!"
and with this the girls all trooped through to the Saal.
"You took long enough" observed their Mother.
Felicity's face reddened slightly at this, but the others were all to busy staring at the stranger on their couch. Jo mercifully came to their rescue.
"Girls this is your cousin Daphne. Daphne dear, these are Felicity, Cecil, Pippa, and Marie-Claire."
Daphne remained silent.
The four girls smiled at her encouragingly.
"Hello" she said at last timidly.
She was very pretty, with dark brown ringlets that went just past her shoulders, and dark brown eyes surrounded by lovely, long lashes. Her father, Jo's brother Dick, had finally agreed to her going to school when it was clear that she really was no longer delicate. Much younger than her brother's and sisters she had been doted on all her life, but she was painfully shy around strangers. Dick had wanted to keep his little sunshine at home with them, but Mollie had grown concerned at Daphne's growing solitude as more and more of her siblings flew the coop.
On hearing of their problem Joey had immediately offered her home as a stepping stone for her niece, promising to keep her at home until Daphne felt ready for school. As Jo's house was often like a busy junction it was hoped that Daphne would soon get over her timidness, and make friends of her own age.
Daphne had arrived a week ago, but had been forced to board with the Sheppards until yesterday, it had been hard for the little girl having to live with complete strangers, and to have to start completely over again within a week, had been awful for the poor dear.