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It was no good, thought Gretchen Mensch, exasperatedly. Even the best and most beloved of husbands could drive one to distraction at times, and Stefan was no exception. As if Christmas wasn't busy enough one way and another, and the dear man had only been and gone and invited the girls' headmistress, her sister and their ward to spend a week, including Christmas Day, with them! Oh, Miss Bettany was charming, and the two children nice enough, especially the baby; the older girl could be a bit startling with her brash English ways. But all the same, they were not family.

Gottfried was coming home, and that was rare enough now that he was in the middle of his medical training. Whatever would he say about these additional girls? He always used to be tongue-tied when he met a girl from his old school. Would he show up any better now? And would Bernhilda and Frieda be their usual helpful selves, or would they make excuses about caring for their visitors?

Luise, her sister, was coming, which in many ways was a relief. At least she would turn to and help, without grumbling or complaining. But where was she to sleep this year, as the guest bedroom would be occupied? Come to that, could she fit all the Bettanys in? The two sisters would just have to share a bed, is all, and she would find something for the little girl, if only cushions on the floor. Bernhilda would have to share with Frieda, for once, then Luise could have her room. Oh dear, it was all so very complicated!

And, of course, there was “die Grossmutter”. Stefan's mother, who lived with them. Although, to be fair, mostly in her own quarters. But when she did come through to theirs, as she had every right to do on Christmas Day, she spent half her time critizing the furniture, the layout, the changes since her own time. Gretchen realised, with part of herself, that this was die Grossmutter's way of having fun, but nevertheless she felt herself judged and found wanting. And what would die Grossmutter make of the English visitors? Would they horrify her? Would she criticize them, and, worse still, would she do so in their hearing? Oh dear, oh dear.

All in all, Christmas looked as though it was going to be a disaster this year.



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