After they had all solemnly sworn that they would not tell the boys that Marie-claire was to get such a babyish thing as a doll, they all got down to decorating the room in earnest.
"When will the boys be back?" asked Pippa curiously.
"Goodness knows!" sighed Jo, "They only came back last night luckily, So we could actually let them in! But Papa dragged them off to the San at some ridiculous hour this morning, I don't think either of them were frightfully keen, but the poor dears weren't given much of a choice in the matter, and it is only one day of their holidays I suppose. Even if it is the first one."
"Is it just Felix and Geoff, or are there any last minute arrivals?" asked Cecil curiously, this was actually quite a sensible question for in Cecil's experience there was always someone there for Christmas who had sworn they would be unable to make it.
"No" replied Jo cheerfully, as they had all half-expected., "Roddy is coming up- tomorrow I believe- I think the words he used were "I have no clean clothes, and I miss eating food too much", which was as you can imagine slightly worrying considering the boy has only been back at College three months!"
"Oh goody! Christmas wouldn't be the same without a Roddy disaster." laughed Cecil. For Roddy was notoriously clumsy, and previous incidents had included bloody noses, pulling the curtains down, and most re-told was the story of how he had tripped and landed face first in the cranberry jam. A story he had not yet managed to live down, despite the fact that it had happened a full four years ago.
Jo was as excited as the girls about having her boys back, though she was saddened that this year followed the pattern of past years, with less and less of her children and adoptees coming home. Len and Reg, with little Patricia and Reg jr. had come every year but last year had seen them move, as Len was offered the deputy head-ship at the other branch of the Chalet school- in Wales. Reg was now working for the Welsh San, and they were happily settled, finally out of the shadow of Len's parents. Con was a travel writer and if she was relatively nearby would come home for Christmas, but as she was constantly globe trotting, there was always little chance of this. This year she had resolved to go out to Niger where Margot was a medical missionary. Steve the next eldest, was following in his Papa's footsteps, and was in England studying Medicine. Charles was studying Law, and hoped to someday open a small practice in London. Mike had not long left school, and had no intention of spending his life in the Navy. He was seeing a young nurse, and was taking a year in college to work extra hard on his studies with the view to following in his brother Steve's footsteps. Whatever his mischievous ways in the past, Mike was long reformed. This three, with such a fearsome study load had all declined their Mother's invitation home. Felix and Geoff were still in school, and therefore were coming home. Geoff having very little idea of what he wanted to do, whilst Felix, rather to his Father's horror, wanted to act. The Richardson's too were settled. Roger was an Engineer with a small Chalet in Austria, and Ruey was a P.T. teacher, and she was going to spend Christmas with Len and her young family. Roddy was currently in college hoping to become an apprentice in the firm his brother worked for. Erica was working as a nanny for a wealthy family over in America- friends of the Von Eschenau's- and was engaged to marry an American sailor, and it was far too far of a distance for her to come home for.
Jo took a sneaky look at her wristwatch, it was almost four now. Hopefully nothing had come up at the San, and Jack would be able to keep his promise. Sure enough, right on the dot, the big doorbell rang.
"Who's that?" demanded Cecil immediately.
Unnoticed by everyone but Jo, Daphne quivered slightly.
"Pippa, why don't you put your dear sister out of her misery and go open the door please?" asked Jo promptly.
Pippa slid down off the couch reluctantly.
"Do you know who it is Mamma?" asked Cecil suspiciously.
Figuring she had given Pippa enough time to react, Jo replied, "Why don't you go see for yourself if you are so curious?"
"You do know!" accused Cecil, before bounding up and running out of the room. Marie-claire hurried after her.
"PAPPA!" they heard Cecil shriek as she reached the hallway.
"I see we haven't lost our voice in the past few months then." they heard Jack say mildly.
Casting off her young elegance, Felicity copied her sister, rushing out of the room calling, "Felix!"
"Are you coming Daphne?" asked Jo gently, as they stood in the now empty room. "They are kind creatures I promise."
Jo held out her hand, and shyly Daphne took it. As hard as meeting her girl cousins had been, meeting her boy cousins would be infinitely harder.
They entered the hall to find mild pandemonium. Jack was standing in the middle of it all, looking decidedly bemused.
"A flower, kind damsel?" asked Felix, who was the first to spot Daphne.
Daphne looked too bewildered and scared to talk.
With a smart flick of his wrist, and a tap on his cap, Felix produced a bunch of fake flowers from his flat pocket.
"Don't take them Daphne!" warned Felicity, catching her twin in the knick of time.
"Yes lets put the squirting flowers away for now Felix." warned his Mother.
"Spoilsport." muttered Felix to Felicity, before covertly squirting her.
Fliss contented herself with giving her brother a fierce glare.
Cecil appeared to be involved in about three conversations at the same time. She was talking to her Father, but every so often she would tilt her head back and interrupt the second twins conversation.
Marie-Claire was calmly sitting on Geoff's shoulders, wearing a paper crown (which had no doubt appeared from the depths of one of Felix's pockets). Pippa who was talking animatedly to Geoff, was sitting with her legs swung casually over the bannister.
"Quiet!" shrieked Jo finally in desperation.
Everyone turned to stare at Joey, and it was so quiet that they could hear the wind howling outside.
Then the doorbell rang.
"Who is it now?!" shouted Cecil excitedly, as Jo sighed.
"Rudolph!" exclaimed Marie-Claire for no apparant reason.
They all started laughing.
"Oh I give up." murmured Jo, before throwing herself wholeheartedly into the competition to shriek the most excitedly.
There was a large rap on the staircase.
"The door." reminded Geoff, rolling his eyes.
Cecil threw herself at the door.
"Roddy." she exclaimed unneccesarily.
"You don't say." said Roddy sarcastically, "Now can we come in? What on Earth did you leave us on the porch for so long for?"
"May we?" said Jo suddenly.
"May we come in", repeated Jo.
Roddy glowered at her. "May I remind you that it is December?"
Jack sprung to the rescue.
"Instead of doing a bad imitation of Hilda, why don't you get the fire going Jo? Geoff, Felix grab these young men's suitcases will you? I'm Jack Maynard by the way" he extended his hand out to shake the other young gentlemans hand, "This is my family. I promise they are all human even if they are acting like they are out of the local zoo, just now."
"Pappa!" exclaimed Cecil looking hurt.
"Oh Cece, don't look like that, you know you are the worst of the lot of us." said Pippa calmly.
"This is Seth" announced Roddy, "I hope you don't mind him coming to stay."
Seth, a curly haired man with dark blue eyes, looked horribly embarassed.
"Of course not" said Jo appearing back in the hallway with a black smudge on her left cheek, "The more the merrier, and when you said you were coming home I half expected Seth to come to when you said in your letter that one of your friends couldn't get home for Christmas."
Seth looked slightly less mortified at having arrived unnanounced.
"May we have a snowfight tomorrow?" asked Marie-claire hopefully, calmly changing the subject.
"And can we make a Christmas pudding too?" chimed in Cecil animatedly, "Frau Meiders showed us how to make them."
Jo opened her mouth to say something.
"and toboganning." interrupted Geoff.
"And we should have a carol concert." contributed Felicity.
"We could put on a play" exclaimed Cecil excitedly.
"I want to practice my skiing" admitted Roddy.
"Okay." said Jo suddenly, "Firstly, yes you can have a snowfight if the weather is okay; Cecil you can ask Anna.."
"Do you not mean I may ask Anna?" asked Cecil cheekily.
Jo's cheeks went red, as she was caught out like this, but she ignored the interruption, "Cecil you may ask Anna but it is entirely up to her, and if she lets you, you must clear up afterwards; You may all go toboganning and skiing, you will have to teach Daphne afterall; If you can manage to arrange a carol concert then you may certainly have one, but we might be better just having a sing-along one evening; and Cecil as admirable as the idea of putting on a play is I think it might require slightly too much organisation but you may certainly try. Now is that everyone?"
When everyone declared themselves out of plans, Jo calmly moved them through to the Saal.
"Where is Ugly Joe?" asked Roddy once he was settled.
Cecil stifled a giggle, and the others all grinned.
Seeing the uncomprehending looks on Seth and Daphne's faces, Felicity hastened to explain.
"Ugly Joe is our cherub." she said laughing, "He sits on the top of our tree, and growls down at us all."
"He's a relic from Pretty Maids- Jacks old family home.I think it was Margot who first called him that, and somehow it stuck." joined in Jo.
"I always did mean to get rid of him" admitted Jack himself, "Having him at the top of the tree was not one of the Maynard traditions I planned on carrying on, but somehow we never quite got round to getting another one."
"Well now we have!" interrupted Cecil excitedly.
"What?" asked Jack surprised.
"Don't tell me you actually managed to find something even more hideous!" laughed Felix in his deep voice.
"No" replied Cecil scathingly, "We found something very beautiful. So there!"
Felix pulled a wild face at her.
"And" she added impressively, "It was hand sewn by a member of the family."
"Oh no" gasped Felix, "Cecil! you haven't tried sewing again have you? Just give me a moment to faint in surprise."
"Shut up!" said Cecil crossly, although she was having to work hard to stop herself from smiling, "It wasn't me idiot."
"Really?" exclaimed Felix sarcastically.
"Oh Felix stop winding her up." moaned Felicity, aiming a gentle kick at his shins.
"Your right." said Felix seriously, "She's far to easy a target."