Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

Author:  Ray [ 01 Dec 2006, 15:01 ]
Post subject:  Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

This is a repost, but Ray will be back with new stuff when she returns from her holiday :D


Chapter 1

Despite the early hour, Francie found herself wide-awake. She lay, snuggled beneath her plumeau, thinking about what was to come. Today was the first day of the Christmas holidays and the first full day of her stay at Freudesheim. The previous day had been the final day of term and, as such, had been spent toing and froing between the school and the Maynard family home, trying to sort out possessions and where they should be. Francie grinned to herself. She would almost swear that at one stage she managed to carry the same collection of miscellaneous underclothes and handkerchiefs between the two buildings on no fewer than three occasions!

Everything had finally been arranged and she had been able to unpack her things in the dainty room that Joey had shown her to. The walls had been painted an austere white, but that was relieved by the sunshiny-yellow curtains, rugs and counterpane which gave the whole room a warm feel. Her clothes, such that she had at present, were either neatly put away in the chest of drawers or hanging in the large hanging closet, while her books had been added to the contents of the bookshelves beside the bed. Beside the window stood a basket chair with cushions, also done in yellow, which looked just right for curling up in. In fact, the whole room felt very much like a place she could come and spend time in if the noise and the chaos got too much.

Today would see a trip down into Interlaken for some Christmas shopping and the arrival of the four eldest Maynard boys, plus Ruey's two brothers. The former would also let her buy some non-uniform clothing more suited to the Alpine regions. Mimsie had kindly sent a trunk full of her home clothing, which Francie had unpacked because, as Joey had pointed out, it would be better for being properly put away rather than left in the trunk in the Freudesheim attic, but most of it wouldn't be worn until Easter. The boys' arrival, though, was something that she was apprehensive about. She had no experience of boys any older than Geoff and she was fairly sure it was going to be an awkward first meeting.

Outside her bedroom, she heard the soft sound of footsteps and a moment later there came a gentle knock on her door.

"Francie?" Len's voice was soft.

"I'm awake," Francie answered, wriggling into a sitting up position.

For response, Len opened the door and poked her head into the room. "Breakfast's going to be in half an hour," she announced. "We're getting an early start into Interlaken so that we can be ready to come home when the boys' train arrives."

Francie stared. "How on earth will we all be able to come back at once?"

Len chuckled deeply. "Minnie," she answered. Francie opened her mouth to object to that statement, but Len shook her head. "You'll see," she promised. "We've got to get a move on, though."

And with that, Len departed for the bathroom. With little other choice, Francie got out of bed and made suitable haste with stripping her bed and preparing for the day ahead. As she did so, she silently thanked her stars that Joey was a little less rigorous in her demands than Matey was where bed stripping was concerned. Her morning routine at school had been difficult, to say the least, since she'd broken her arm; though she was aware that Matey had been lenient with her over matters such as mattress turning, and sundry members of her dormitory had been permitted to help her out when necessary. All the same, the last two and a half weeks of term had been even more of a scrum in the mornings, and even now, with Joey's lesser demands, Francie found she was still barely down in time for breakfast.

To her surprise, both Joey and Jack were sitting at the breakfast table when she arrived. She had been assuming that, given the early start, the only people eating would be those going to Interlaken.

"Would you like coffee or tea?" Joey asked, interrupting Francie's train of thought.

"Coffee, please," Francie answered, taking her seat as Con, the last of the triplets, arrived in the Speisesaal.

"Coffee it shall be, then," said Joey, dispensing coffee from the big urn and passing the full cup down to Francie. "Wire in. I suppose Ruey is on her way?" she added, looking at the middle triplet with raised eyebrows.

"She is," Con answered, sitting down. "She was hunting for a hankie."

Con's answer was rendered moot as at Ruey entered the Speisesaal at that moment, and breakfast got properly underway. There was scrambled eggs or porridge on offer, as well as toast and a choice of either Anna's home-made raspberry jam or golden honey, all washed down by either coffee or tea. Francie chose scrambled eggs and then helped herself to toast, which she spread liberally with the jam, which was more richness than they normally received during term time.

As she ate, she listened as the triplets and Ruey bantered between themselves, with Joey and Jack putting in the occasional word. It was a fascinating window on family life, Francie decided, though she did wonder quite what the noise level would be like when the whole family was assembled.

Breakfast began to wind down, and as last cups of coffee were drained and last bites of toast swallowed, Joey said, "You have ten minutes to get ready to go; late comers will be left behind." She gave them all a mischievous look. "And don't think I won't, for we've simply too much to do before the boys' train arrives. Don't worry about making beds this morning; they can be made when we get back."

"Are you coming too, Mama?" Con asked.

"I certainly am," Joey replied. "You're not the only ones who want to do some shopping! Now if everyone's finished?" At answering nods, Joey said grace and then dismissed them from the table with another reminder that they had just ten minutes to get ready.

"What about Felicity and the others?" Francie asked as she followed Len up the stairs.

"Flixy is going to spend the morning with Lucy Peters," Margot answered from behind her. "And Rosli will look after Cecil and the twins. You didn't think we'd be taking the babes, did you?"

Francie looked over her shoulder and pulled a remarkable grimace at the youngest triplet. "Of course I didn't; I was just wasn't expecting your mother to be coming with us."

"Mama will spend the afternoon with the babes," Con answered. "Since she's spending the morning with us."

"Besides," said Len, "I rather think your step-mother asked Mama to see to any clothing you need."

"I don't want to be a nuisance," Francie began.

"Rot," said Margot bracingly. "Mama said herself she has shopping to do, and I know we three, at least, need some new winter clothing as well, so even if you weren't here, she'd be coming with us."

Francie blushed and said no more.

In less than the required ten minutes, all five of them were ready and waiting in the hall.

"All here?" Jack asked.

"All but Auntie Joey," Ruey pointed out.

"And here I am," said Joey, descending the stairs. "Is everyone ready? Does everyone have everything? Purses? Bags? Coats?"

"Mother!" Margot complained. "We're not Flixy, ah, Felicity," she modified under her mother's stern gaze.

"What have I told you about that particular short?"

Margot blushed. "Sorry, Mama."

"Well if we're all ready," said Jack, "shall we go?"

At the chorus of yeses, he chuckled and opened the front door, ushering them out into the still-dark, cold morning. To Francie's surprise, parked immediately in front of the door was a minibus.

"Minnie," said Len with a grin.

Francie chuckled. "I now see how we're all going to get back here."

Len just chuckled in response as they all piled into Minnie. Barely moments later, they were off.

"What's the plan?" Jack asked as he pulled onto the coach road.

"First things first," said Joey, "the girls all need new winter clothes of one sort or another. You're welcome to come with us, or we can meet for early elevenses at the pâtisserie."

"I'll meet you for elevenses," Jack decided. "The usual place?"

"Yes," Joey agreed. "Ten o'clock?"

"Can do," said Jack affably.

"After that," Joey continued, "we'll have about an hour before the boys' train arrives for any Christmas shopping that needs to be done." She paused to look at the five girls. "We'll split up for that, I think; I know I can trust all of you to meet us at the Hauptbahnhof at noon."

"We will, Mama," Con promised.

"Definitely," agreed Ruey.

"You all know Interlaken quite well," Joey added, "and heaven knows, should any of you get lost, you all speak decent German."

"Lost!" Margot exclaimed, outraged. "We shouldn't get lost."

"I never over estimate anyone's sense of direction," her mother retorted. "And that includes my own," she added, provoking a chuckle from Jack, who murmured something rather pointed about Umfert. Francie glanced at Len, but she looked just as puzzled as Francie felt. "Anyway. There it is; that's the plan. Does anyone have any objections? Speak now or forever hold your peace."

No-one did.

"I'll drop you on the Hoheweg," said Jack as they reached the outskirts of Interlaken, "then park Minnie in the Hauptbahnhof's car park. So be ready to tumble out; we shan't have long."

His warning proved accurate as, even allowing for the early hour, the Hoheweg was busy and there was barely time for Jack to stop to let everyone out.

"This way," Joey directed, and the morning's adventures began.

An hour later, and weighed down with several bags of winter woollies and assorted other necessities required for the alpine climate, Francie was only too relieved to take a seat in the warm pâtisserie for elevenses.

"Are you all right?" Len asked as she took her own seat.

"A bit overwhelmed," Francie admitted. "We don't seem to have stopped since we left Minnie."

Their first port of call had been a department store similar to ones Francie had visited the last time Mimsie had taken her shopping in London. The chief difference was that it was barely past nine o'clock in the morning and while the London shops would just be opening up, the Interlaken shop was already busy. From there, several jumpers had been picked out along with a couple of skirts, a pair of comfortable climbing breeches and a padded winter coat. At this last, she had started to voice an objection, since she had a school winter coat that she could wear, but Joey had stopped her:

"Your step-mother asked me if I could see to getting you warm clothing so that you wouldn't have to wear any of your school uniform during the holidays. And that includes a coat. Besides," she added, "this will be better for scrambling and hiking than your school coat, and I have one or two scrambles and hikes planned."

"I told you Auntie Joey would have some wizard plans for the hols," Ruey had pointed out as soon as Joey was out of earshot, and that had ended that particular discussion.

At the next shop, everyone acquired new pairs of thick, woollen socks, stockings and sundry other items of underwear, while at a third shop, both Ruey and Margot required new boots. They had then needed to run in order to meet Jack at the pâtisserie in time.

Len offered a grin. "I do feel a little like Alice, always being told to 'come on'," she admitted. "Still, it's a chance to breathe now. Help yourself to some coffee and tell me what cake you'd like. I'll get it for you."

"You don't have to," Francie began.

"I don't," Len agreed, "but dad'll probably have rude things to say about how much you've done with your arm today as it is. No point in making it worse!"

That was something Francie couldn't argue with. "An éclair, then," she said, "and thank you."

Len grinned and went to chose their cakes and Francie helped herself to coffee from the steaming pot already on the table. It didn't take long before the rest of the party joined her at the table and began enjoying some well-earned elevenses.

"So, a successful morning so far?" Jack asked.

"Mostly," Joey agreed. "Though I couldn't find the oddments I wanted for Geoff and Phil; they've outgrown all their winter clothing from last year and none of the winter clothing I have put aside fits them!"


"Oh, definitely," said Con before taking a rather incautious bite out of her cream horn, which, predictably, spurted its filling onto her plate.

"Messy brat," said her father affectionately.

"You'd think you'd know better than to do that by now," said Len severely.

Con just grimaced with a will at both and cleansed her fingers by the simple expedient of licking them.

Francie chuckled and made doubly sure to avoid the same fate when she bit into her éclair.

"I think," said Joey, sipping her coffee, "that it might be best if we take our purchases back to Minnie, rather than us lugging them around the rest of the shops."

"Given that one of us isn't supposed to be doing any lifting if she can help it," said Jack, giving Francie a pointed look, at which she promptly blushed, "that's probably a good idea. I do suppose you left something for other folks when you'd finished?" Jack added, eyeing the number of bags that they'd piled up on one of the spare chairs.

"Hi! We haven't bought that much, my lad," Joey retorted. Then she too eyed the number of bags. "Though I suppose we do have rather a few purchases between us."

"Then that's settled. If you five have finished," he continued, looking at the girls, "I suggest you scoot off and get on with whatever shopping you have left to do. We'll see to your packages."

"Don't forget," Joey added as all five stood up, "you need to be at the Hauptbahnhof by noon. Stragglers may be left behind."

"We'll be there," Len promised.

Once they were outside the pâtisserie, Margot asked, "Where to?"

"The big toyshop, I think," said Con thoughtfully. To Francie, she explained, "We four," and she waved her hand at Len, Margot and Ruey in an expansive gesture that set Margot to ducking lest her sister actually poke her in the eye, "are getting together to buy the boys a really lavish Meccano set. Even Charles enjoys making models and dad's set just isn't up to much."

"And we're getting Fliss and Cecil some new furniture for La Maison des Poupées," Ruey continued.

"Do you want to join us?" Len finished.

"Con, you're a positive menace," Margot muttered.

"Sorry," said Con most unapologetically.

Margot opened her mouth to respond, but Len got in first. "Hey; no scrapping. We simply haven't got time for that." To Francie, she said, "So how about it?"

As Francie had been wondering just what she should do regarding gifts to the other Maynard children, this seemed like the obvious answer. "Of course."

"The toyshop, it is, then," said Ruey, and they set off in that direction.

"What about Roger?" Margot asked.

"I expect he'll enjoy the Meccano with everyone else," said Ruey, but she sounded doubtful.

"We ought to get him something separate," Con argued. "After all, even Steve's years younger than he is."

"But what?" Margot demanded.

Slightly shyly, Francie ventured, "What about book tokens?" She suddenly found herself the focus of four sets of eyes as Ruey, Con, Margot and Len all turned to look at her.

"Francie, you're a genius!" exclaimed Con.

"That's the very thing," agreed Len.

"What a wonderful idea," Margot decided. "It's perfect."

"Definitely," said Ruey nodding vigorously. "I've no idea what he'd like in a book, but this way, he can choose his own."

Francie blushed. "Glad you like it," she murmured.

Sparing her from further embarrassment, Len decided they needed to get a move on and the pace she set the group left no-one time for comments until they reached the toyshop.

The next half an hour was filled with the very pleasurable task of choosing the new dolls house furniture and picking out the Meccano set. Francie had never been one for playing with dolls and dolls houses, but looking at the display of furniture the shop possessed, she rather wished she had been. Once that was done, Ruey and Margot, armed with contributions from everyone else, made tracks for the big bookshop to purchase the book tokens for Roger, leaving Len, Con and Francie to wander through the Interlaken Christmas market.

"What a wide variety of stalls," Francie observed, as she spied a stall selling cakes and sweets cheek-by-jowl with a stall filled with hand-blown glass works.

"Isn't it?" said Con with a grin. "I love it. Sometimes, they have demonstrations, too; last year, they had the glass blower, demonstrating how he creates the vases and so on. I could have watched him forever!"

"It's a pity he's not here today," said Len. "Have you ever seen glass being blown?" she asked Francie, who shook her head. "Maybe next time, then." She smiled. "If you have any presents you still need to buy, this is a good place for it."

"I was wondering what to get for your mother and father," Francie admitted.

"Mama is easy," said Con with a grin. "She collects carved animals, and there's a stall with some simply amazing carvings just round the corner."

Len nodded. "Papa is easy, too; there's a stall that does the most luscious truffles that Papa likes. We'll show you."

Francie smiled. "Thank you."

And by the time they reached the Hauptbahnhof, Francie had a beautifully carved cat and a kilo of the truffles tucked into her handbag. She had also contrived to slip away from Len and Con for a couple of moments and nestling beside the gifts for Joey and Jack were a small note book for Con, a lovely little vase that she'd seen Len casting longing glances at, a selection box of truffles for Margot and, after advice from both Len and Con, a new fountain pen for Ruey. The final package in her handbag was another notebook, together with a pen, which she'd bought for Eric. It had been tricky deciding what she should get for him, and she finally settled on the book and pen with the idea that he could use it to write down flashes of memory to see if they made any more sense when all combined.

"All done?" Margot asked as she and Ruey caught them up at the entrance to the bahnhof.

"Just," said Len. "Though I did think we might have to run for it to be on time!"

Ruey chuckled. "So did we," she admitted. Then she looked around. "Where are Uncle Jack and Auntie Joey?"

"Over there," said Con, spotting her parents, who were further along the concourse. "And they've got someone with them," she added in surprised tones.

To Francie's surprise, Len first went white, then red. "Oh my!" she exclaimed, and, forgetting her dignity, Len tore across the bahnhof concourse, making a beeline for the mystery man standing with her parents.

Author:  kimothy [ 01 Dec 2006, 17:06 ]
Post subject: 

thanks Ray, i never saw this first time

Author:  jacey [ 01 Dec 2006, 17:14 ]
Post subject: 

Its lovely to see this back but.......... there is *another* drabble that I *have* to keep up with. :roll:
Great to see this back Ray, enjoy the hols and come back full of posts :lol:

Author:  Dawn [ 01 Dec 2006, 18:59 ]
Post subject: 

So pleased this is back

Thankyou Rayminion for posting :D

Author:  Mrs Redboots [ 01 Dec 2006, 19:16 ]
Post subject: 

Oh, excellent! Delighted to see this back.

Author:  wheelchairprincess [ 01 Dec 2006, 20:31 ]
Post subject: 

Ray this is great! And thanks to Rayminion for posting. :)

Author:  Kathy_S [ 02 Dec 2006, 05:38 ]
Post subject: 

Very glad to see this back. :D
Thank you, Ray & Rayminion.

Author:  Ray [ 02 Dec 2006, 13:05 ]
Post subject: 

Chapter 2

A glance in Ruey's direction told Francie that she wasn't the only one confused by Len's sudden, and apparent, loss of sanity.

"It's all right," said Con with a grin, "Len hasn't gone completely bats."

Francie raised an eyebrow, even as she saw Len wrap her arms around the stranger in a bear hug that actually took him back a pace.

"He's an old friend of ours," Margot explained. "We haven't seen him in more than a year; he's been finishing off his qualifications."

"He's a doctor," Con put in, as they started to move towards Joey and Jack.

"And Len's missed him?"

From the tone of Ruey's voice, Francie guessed her friend considered that was an understatement of the first order. Nor did she miss the way Margot and Con exchanged looks before answering, in unison, with, "Yes."

"There you four are!" exclaimed Jack at that moment. "We knew you couldn't be far behind this young whirlwind." And he cast a fond look in Len's direction.

"Sorry," Len mumbled. She turned a brilliant shade of red and looked so far removed from the dignified prefect Francie was used to seeing that she was suddenly reminded of the fact that Len was actually a full year younger than she was.

The stranger chuckled. "It was certainly a warm welcome. Though I'm sure I wrote to say I'd be arriving today."

"You probably did," said Joey with a grin, "but we left before the mail had arrived. I expect it's waiting for us up at the Platz."

He chuckled in return. "It's as well I wasn't hoping for collection, then." He turned to Ruey and Francie and stuck out a hand. "I'm Reg Entwhistle."

For Ruey, at least, the name clearly meant something, for she promptly smiled, shook his hand and said, "Pleased to meet you; I'm Ruey Richardson. The triplets have told me a lot about you."

Reg feigned a look of alarm, at which Margot, Con and Len giggled. "All good, I hope."

"Of course it's all good," said Con.

"Apart from that one time with the kite," added Margot with a particularly wicked expression on her face.

"And, I think we might have mentioned your cooking," said Len mischievously.

"I've told you a hundred times, the problem with the kite was your brother ramming it into the ground the day before and my cooking was no worse than yours, Miss Mary Helena – which one of us managed to set fire to the water pot?"

To Francie's amusement, Len turned dark red at that reminder. Satisfied at his revenge, Reg turned his attention to Francie.

"Francie Wilford," she said, introducing herself. "I'm staying with the Maynards over Christmas because my own family are in America."

"Nice to meet you."

"You are all right for getting up to the Platz?" Jack asked.

Reg nodded. "As I say, I wasn't expecting anyone to meet me and there are some sundries I need to buy here in town."

"It's just as well," said Joey apologetically. "We're here to collect the boys and between them, their luggage, the girls and ourselves, it's going to be a tight enough squeeze without room for even a little one."

Reg chuckled. "I see."

Francie noted that Len's face, which was more or less its normal colour once more, had fallen appreciably at this information.

"I'd best be off," Reg continued, "if I want to be at the Platz at a reasonable hour." And to a chorus of "Take cares," and "See you laters," Reg departed.

"Suppose," said Jack, "you and the girls go and load up Minnie? The boys should be here at any moment."

"Good scheme," Joey agreed. "This way, girls."

Francie found herself being swept along, out of the Bahnhof concourse and into the car park, where they found that Minnie was parked very close to the exit.

"Did you find everything you wanted?" Joey asked as she unlocked Minnie.

"I think so," said Con cautiously, glancing round the rest of the group.

Francie answered with a nod as she carefully climbed into the minibus. "Yes, thank you."


"Did you find the things you wanted for Phil and Geoff?" Len asked.

"And one or two other oddments, too," Joey answered with a nod. "Though I may yet need to come down later in the week. We shall have to see."

At that moment, the first of the boys appeared and the next few minutes were spent in a kind of organised chaos as Joey superintended the stowing of luggage and the boys clambered into the vehicle.

"Not another girl!" groaned one boy who contrived to combine angelic blond curls and blue eyes with an expression that warned of much mischief.

"Mike!" objected Con. "Don't be rude."

"Well, but…" Mike began.

"That's enough, Michael," warned one of the older boys who looked, to Francie, almost exactly like a smaller version of Jack Maynard. "Girls won't kill you."

"Thanks for the flowers, Steve," said Margot dryly.

Steve offered his older sister a grin and sat down.

"We're only home for five minutes and already the scrapping begins," murmured a dark-haired boy, rolling his eyes as he took his seat.

Since he looked nothing like Ruey, Francie guessed this was Charles. This was born out a moment later when Ruey launched herself at two boys in a fashion that was even less restrained than Len's greeting of Reg had been.

Last out of the station, talking nineteen to the dozen with his father, was Felix; Francie recognised him easily, though the last time she had seen him, he had been accompanying his mother and sister round the school's sale the previous summer.

"This is going to be a bit of a squash," Roger observed. "Shove up a little, Mike; there's room for Roddy next to you."

"But…" Mike began.

To Francie's amusement every Maynard sibling, including Felix, all joined in the chorus of: "Michael!"

Reluctantly, Michael moved over, allowing Roddy a seat. Felix, as the smallest of the party, took a precarious seat on Len's lap, allowing Roger a seat, while Ruey took the final seat available.

"Everyone in?" Jack enquired and, after a chorus of "Yes!", he proceeded to slide the door shut.

Francie decided later that it was a very good thing that it was only a relatively short journey from Interlaken to Freudesheim. Minnie was very cramped and it was particularly uncomfortable travelling up the steep mountain road that took them onto the Platz. At each hairpin bend, she found herself either sliding into Roger's lap or, worse, having him slide into hers. By the time they reached Freudesheim, Francie's face was almost as red as Len's had been earlier.

The afternoon was a blur of noise and chaos as the six boys unpacked their things (or, in Felix and Mike's cases, had their unpacking dealt with by older sisters, neither being trusted to unpack without making mischief) and settled back into being at home. To Francie's general surprise, though, by four o'clock, when they were all summoned to tea, the chaos had been mostly resolved and the noise levels were beginning to die down. Tea proved to be an absolutely riotous affair, but with fourteen people crammed into the Speisesaal for the meal, that was not surprising. Jack had been forced to attend The San shortly after their return from Interlaken, but Lucy Peters, Felicity's bosom friend, had augmented the party.

After that, they were all at their own devices until dinnertime. The older boys disappeared up to one of the attics in Freudesheim to work on a model railway that they were building under Roger's supervision, while the younger children all headed for the nursery for some rowdy games with their mother. Margot and Ruey went to join in the fun in the nursery, leaving Len, Con and Francie seated comfortably in the Saal, gently gossiping about the term just finished and their hopes for the coming term.

"What happens next?" Francie asked presently.

"In what sense?" Len asked.

"Well…" Francie hunted for precisely what she meant. "When I go home, after I've unpacked, I generally help Mimsie with preparations for Christmas and decorations. That sort of thing."

Con smiled. "Oh, we do that too, but we can't start that until tomorrow; it wouldn't be fair to the boys. Tomorrow, the tree will be brought in and either Papa or Roger will see to the lights. Anna lets the little ones make cookies to hang on the tree, and then we get to decorate it."

"We'll also decorate the hall and in here and the Speisesaal," Len said, taking up the tale. "Last year, Mama cut strips and set Felix and Felicity to making them into paper chains which we then hung around the house. She might get Cecil to help this year."

"Oh, and we have this gorgeous nativity scene," Con added. "It's carved in wood and it looks so beautiful. We'll set that up tomorrow, too; then each day until Christmas, we add a new piece. Then on Christmas day, we add the final piece, Baby Jesus."

"That's usually done by the youngest person able to do it," Len put in.

"Putting Baby Jesus in the manger?" Francie asked, not unreasonably confused.

Len giggled. "Sorry; no. The thing as a whole. The youngest can't help much with the decorating, so it's their little piece of the fun."

"Mama says it's something that Auntie Madge did for her when she was little and sick so much of the time," said Con. "I think it's a nice tradition."

Francie couldn't help but agree. "Do you go to a midnight service?"

"It depends a little on the weather," Len answered. "We went last year, but the year before, we had a young blizzard which meant we were stuck indoors."

"If we can't go," said Con, "we have a sort of a service here instead. Mama or Papa plays and we sing carols."

Francie contrasted that with wading through heavy rain to attend the midnight service at home the year before and decided she liked the idea far more. "That sounds nice."

"It is," Len agreed. "There's something about gathering the whole family in here, around the fire and singing carols."

"And if we do that, Papa will tell the story of the First Noel," Con put in. "Between the carols."

Francie found herself almost hoping for a similar young blizzard. It all sounded very nice and homely.

"Then, on Christmas morning, we each have a stocking, which we may open before breakfast, but any presents under the tree are strictly not to be touched until everyone is up and has had breakfast," Len continued. "It's one of the really few strict rules Mama and Papa have. Since there are gifts for everyone, everyone should be present, they say."

"Then there's lunch," said Con. "But you'll find out about that when it happens."

And from that mysterious comment both Con and Len refused to budge and eventually, Francie gave up and turned the conversation to other topics. "So, who, exactly, is Reg?"

"He's a family friend," said Len, but the beetroot colour of her cheeks suggested something else entirely to Francie.

"We met him in Yorkshire," Con explained. "We have a holiday home there and he was friends with Auntie Phoebe, who was our next door neighbour."

"He took us all over," said Len, still blushing. "And showed us all sorts of places to play and things to do."

"He wanted to be a doctor," Con continued. "But his Auntie wasn't sure he should go on at school, so Mama and Papa stepped in and we've been friends ever since. We've gone on holiday together loads of times. He showed us how to make kites one summer," she added. "Though his didn't fly properly when we came to test them because Steve had bent it out of shape the day before."

"Another year, just before he started his university course," Len added, "we went camping for a couple of days. He showed us how to set a proper fire and cook over it."

Francie lifted an eyebrow. "I have to ask; how did you set fire to the water pot?"

Len blushed deeply again. "Reg is a perfect horror," she muttered.

Con took pity on her sister. "It was an easy mistake to make; there wasn't quite enough water in it and it boiled dry."

"Ah." Francie nodded. "If it makes you feel any better, Len, I did the same thing with our old kettle." She grinned. "In fact, it's the reason it became our old kettle!"

Len chuckled weakly. "This bunch never let me forget it."

"I like that!" Con objected. "How many times do you remind me of the idiot things I've done?"

But just as a promising scrap started brewing, there was a knock on the door and a moment later Felicity appeared.

"Con, Mama says 'Please will you tidy your writing out of the green room?'" she asked in parrot-like fashion.

"Oh bother!" Con exclaimed. "I'd forgotten I'd left it there." And without further ado, she departed, closely followed by her younger sister, leaving Len and Francie alone in the Saal.

"The green room's where Reg is going to stay," Len explained before Francie could ask. "But it's also got a really decent window and desk so Con likes to use it for writing, when she has a story on the boil."

"I see." Francie didn't, but from the tone of Len's voice, nor did Len entirely, so she let the subject drop.

For a few minutes, the only sound in the Saal was the occasional pop and hiss from the logs burning in the open grate. Then, hesitantly, she said, "Len, may I ask you a question?"

Len looked up from her apparently careful study of the gaily-coloured hearthrug. "Of course." With a grin she added, "And you can have another one for free, too!"

Francie chuckled, then sobered. "I'm not trying to be a poke nose," she began, "but, you and Reg--- Are you? I mean---" Francie blushed to the tips of her ears. "I mean do you---like him?"

Francie's blush was rapidly rivalled by the one that stained Len's cheeks. "I don't know," she admitted. "It's difficult. I haven't seen him in over a year but when I saw him this morning, I realised how much I'd missed him." A faint smile flickered across her face. "We have been writing to each other, but he's a terrible correspondent."

Francie chuckled. "So many people with brothers say that. Are boys really that bad?"

"Every bit and worse," said Len with feeling. "Steve's idea of a letter is 'Made rugger team. Pranked Beachy in Latin. Came top in science.'"

Francie giggled appreciatively. "Consider me officially grateful not to have a brother, then."

"But I'm not sure about Reg," Len continued. "I don't know what he thinks of me, or how he thinks of me. And maybe all this is is some silly schoolgirl crush. I mean, he is years older than me."

"And just because he's older than you it should make a difference?" Francie countered.

Len gave the ghost of a smile. "I suppose it shouldn't." She sighed. "I don't know. I do know that nothing can happen yet. I'm still in school and Reg is just starting out. And that means there's plenty of time to work out what I want, and what he wants."

Francie smiled. "True."

Sparing either of them further comments, the Saal door burst open and in came Ruey, Margot and Con, all of them looking excited.

"What's cooking?" Len asked.

"Mama has a plans," said Con.

"With a capital P," added Margot. "We five, and mother, are going exploring on Friday, provided the weather's good."

"Exploring? Where?" Len asked, her eyes sparking with interest.

"You know the path that leads away from Bertenthal?" asked Con. Len nodded. "Up there – to see where it leads."

Francie had only a hazy idea of where the triplets and Ruey were discussing so avidly, but one thing was abundantly clear to her and that was that any such expedition would involve a great deal of scrambling and she was fairly sure no-one would countenance her doing any such thing until the cast came off her arm.

"Francie, what is it?" Con asked presently, as she realised Francie had yet to voice an opinion.

"Will they let me come?" she asked, waving her unencumbered hand at the cast encasing her other arm.

Four faces dropped immediately.

"I say!" Margot exclaimed unhappily. "I hadn't thought of that."

"Hadn't thought of what?" enquired a new voice.

"Papa!" Con exclaimed, turning to see Jack standing in the Saal doorway. "Mama's proposed an expedition for Friday."

"But Francie's wrist's still in plaster," said Ruey. "And we were wondering whether she'd be able to come."

"Well certainly not in the cast," said Jack decisively. "I know where Joey's proposing you go and that's not a path for someone who doesn't have both hands free."

Francie felt her heart sink. "Oh."

"But," Jack continued, "as I was leaving the San just now, Dr Peters reminded me that tomorrow, you have an appointment with him to have the cast removed and your arm checked. Providing he says it's all healed, and since it wasn't a complicated break, there's no earthly reason why that shouldn't be the case, there's nothing to stop you going on the expedition."

"Really?" Francie almost didn't dare believe her ears at this good news.

"Really," said Jack firmly. "Now, it's almost dinner time, so how about you five go and get ready for that?"

Doing as they were bidden, all five headed out of the Saal towards the stairs, but as they reached the foot of the stairs two things happened. The first was a knock on the front door, which Len went to answer. The second was an ear-splitting squall from upstairs.


"Good Lord!" Francie exclaimed. "Who's being murdered?"

"That's just Mike," said Margot with, to Francie's way of thinking, alarming lack of reaction. "If any of the boys look especially tired when they get back, Mama sends them to bed just before dinner so that they can have a long night of sleep."

"Since Mike's such a livewire," Ruey continued, "he's almost always included in that. Though this time last year, Auntie Joey was sending Roger to bed early, too!"

"Roger didn't make nearly as much fuss, though," said Con with a grin. "He admitted he was rather tired."

"Whereas it would practically kill Mike to admit that even if he was too exhausted to move," finished Margot.

"It's this way – I'll show you up." Len's voice drifted to the quartet at the foot of the stairs and a moment later Len, with Reg in tow, appeared.

"Hello again," said Reg with a smile.

"You're just in time for dinner," said Margot, smiling in greeting.

"Nice to know my sense of timing hasn't deserted me; Phoebe always reckoned my stomach could tell the time better than any watch!" Reg responded, chuckling.

"Phoebe's right," said a new voice. "But I'm glad to see it's a skill that hasn't deserted you."

Francie looked beyond Ruey, who was furthest up the stairs, to see Joey standing on the landing, a very sleepy looking Felix with her.

"I'll say a proper hello over dinner," Joey was continuing, "but I've promised Felix I'll see him into bed and I need to make sure Mike is getting ready for bed too."

With that, she disappeared again.

"I've missed this," said Reg. "All chaos and disorder and yet everyone knows what's going on. It's a proper home."

As Francie lay in bed later that evening, after a dinner that was only marginally less riotous than tea and then an outrageously cutthroat game of Monopoly, Reg's words came back to her and made her smile. They did seem to fit the situation exactly.

"This Christmas is going to be fun," she murmured softly.

And then, without another thought, she rolled over and went to sleep, ready for whatever adventures were going to come in the morning.

Author:  LizB [ 02 Dec 2006, 14:04 ]
Post subject: 

So glad this is back at last!

Thanks, Ray :D

Author:  Vikki [ 02 Dec 2006, 19:25 ]
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*wonders when Ray is due back from her hols......*

Author:  leahbelle [ 02 Dec 2006, 19:40 ]
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Great! Thank you, Ray :lol: .

Author:  Dawn [ 02 Dec 2006, 21:02 ]
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I'd completely forgotton about Len and Reg in this and the lovely talk between Francie and Len about him


Author:  Jennie [ 02 Dec 2006, 21:26 ]
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Thanks, Ray. It's good to see this back.

Author:  wheelchairprincess [ 03 Dec 2006, 12:59 ]
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I haven't seen this before but I think that it's great. I love the way Francie is getting a rapid introduction to family life and the Len and Reg stuff too.

Author:  kimothy [ 03 Dec 2006, 13:45 ]
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loving this Ray!!!!!

*begs for more*

Author:  Ray [ 03 Dec 2006, 21:45 ]
Post subject: 

Vikki wrote:
*wonders when Ray is due back from her hols......*

Ray's back on the 5th - I shall be posting a chapter a day up to and including then.

For those of you who've not seen this before, you might also want to check out Francie to the Fore, which this follows on from.


Chapter 3

The following morning, while the decorations were unearthed at Freudesheim, Francie found herself being driven along to the San at the other end of the Gornetz Platz for her appointment with Dr Peters.

"I'll meet you in an hour," Jack said as they entered the building. "Dr Peters' consulting room is just down that way," and he pointed along a corridor just off to the left of the entrance hall, "and if I'm not apparent when you've finished, Matron Graves will look after you."

"Thank you," Francie replied, a little nervously.

Jack smiled down at her. "Chin up; I'm sure it will be fine." And with those last words of advice, he disappeared into his office, leaving Francie to make her way to Dr Peters' consulting room.

It proved as easy to find as Jack had implied. Barely two steps along the corridor, she found a name plaque proclaiming the office belonged to Dr Peters, and through the open doorway, she could see Dr Peters himself.

"Ah, young Miss Wilford," said Dr Peters looking up at that moment. "Come in and let's sort out that arm of yours."

Francie did as she was bidden and took up a seat where Dr Peters was gesturing. A second later, she almost regretted it as he began to advance on her armed with a most vicious looking implement. She must have cringed a little because his next words were,

"I know it looks a little fearsome, but just relax – this won't hurt."

Meekly, Francie held out her arm and submitted to having the cast removed. It wasn't a comfortable process, although Dr Peters was correct that it didn't hurt, and, mercifully, it was over quickly. Barely moments later, she was able to stare, curiously, at her hand for the first time in four weeks. Her whole arm felt strangely light and her hand, in particular, looked oddly pale by comparison to her other.

"How does it feel?" Dr Peters asked, putting the implement away again.

"Lighter," Francie admitted frankly.

Dr Peters laughed. "So I should imagine. Any pain?" Francie shook her head. "All right." Gently, he ran his hands over where the break had been, gently feeling and prodding. "Still no pain?"

"Still no pain," Francie confirmed.

"How about when you move it?" Francie obliged by flexing her wrist a couple of times. "Does it hurt?"

Francie shook her head. "Though it feels a little stiff," she added.

"It will be that; you haven't used it for four weeks. You will also find it's a little weaker than before, so you need to be careful for the next few days, but," and here Dr Peters paused and smiled, "I'm going to give you a clean bill of health. Just watch out the next time you go skiing."

Francie chuckled in relief. "I will," she promised.

Francie bid Dr Peters farewell and started to return to the main entrance hall. The whole appointment had taken barely twenty minutes, so the chances were extremely good that Jack wouldn't be ready yet.

"I should find Matron Graves," she mused.

"Well, hey there."

The voice jerked Francie from her thoughts and she looked round for the speaker, expecting to see the speaker dressed, as she'd seen him so many times before, in dressing gown and slippers. To her surprise, though, she found him seated on one of the comfortable seats in the entrance hall, fully dressed.

"No 'hi how are you?'"

Francie rapidly regathered her wits and smiled. "I'm sorry; you surprised me, Eric. Hello."

Eric, for his part, chuckled. "Seems like you're real easy to surprise, then."

"When I'm not paying attention," Francie agreed. She cast an eye over the clothes and noted that none of them seemed to fit terribly well. The trousers looked a little on the long side while the jacket and shirt looked as if they were a size too small.

Perhaps sensing her scrutiny, Eric looked a little sheepish. "No-one seemed to know where whatever was left of whatever it was I was wearing when you found me went. So Matron scared some clothes up for me. Guess I'm gonna need to do some shopping after the holidays."

"Holidays?" Francie echoed blankly. Was he truly proposing to wear ill-fitting clothes until mid-January?

"Musta said something dumb," Eric observed, still looking sheepish. "You guys don't call this time of year the holidays?" Silently, Francie shook her head. "Oh." Eric hesitated a moment. "After Christmas, then, and New Year."

"I'm sure we can do something before then," she replied. "You certainly don't look comfortable!"

"I guess I am kinda terrified of breathing too hard," Eric admitted.

Francie giggled. "Poor thing." Eric grimaced at her with a will. "I expect Mrs Maynard will step in before you expire."

"I sure hope so – or that would put a real crimp in the celebrations." Eric grinned. "I'd ask what brings you here, but I can see for myself."

Suddenly self-conscious, Francie glanced down at her freed arm. "Yes; it is a bit evident."

"Bet it feels good to get rid of it, though." An oddly wistful smile crossed Eric's face. "I have this kinda half idea that casts itch like he…anything."

"You've broken your arm?"

Eric shrugged cautiously. "Maybe; or something else. And I kinda figure this isn't the first time I've been in hospital. It all seems a little familiar – and I don't mean from spending three months here."

Francie winced. "Ouch."

Eric shrugged again, then smiled. "Any bits of memory are good memories right now."

"I suppose so." Francie smiled faintly. "And you're right; the cast did itch like stink." She took up the empty seat next to his. "Did you get to see the Nativity Play?"

Eric shook his head. "Dr Graves didn't think it would be a good idea. I'd only been up on my feet a couple of days at that point and I was still kinda woozy. How did it go?"

"It went well," Francie answered. "I ended up as prompter, thanks to a small crisis, which beat being front-of-house all ends up, but I'm not sure I'd want to do it again. It's a lot too much responsibility for me."

"But one you were able to cope with," Eric pointed out. "I get the feeling your teachers don't let you handle more than you can take on."

Francie smiled. "They don't, you're right. But still, it's a little frightening." She paused. "Miss Ashley spoke to me afterwards."

"Oh?" Eric's eyebrows lifted. "What did she want?"

"Believe it or not," Francie replied, "she wanted to apologise about the coaching session."

Eric smiled. "Good for her."

"It may not make much difference to me, of course," Francie continued, "but it was nice of her."

"It was."

Conversation languished for a moment or two. And when it restarted, it was with a completely different subject, as Eric said,

"So what's Christmas like in these parts?"

Francie chuckled. "I'll let Len and Con fill you in on that," she said. "They were filling me in yesterday; they seemed to have it perfected."

"Len and Con aren't here," Eric pointed out. "You are."

Since there was no refuting that statement, Francie gave in and repeated the descriptions that Len and Con had supplied the previous day.

"Sure sounds like fun," said Eric when she finished. "And since I haven't got a clue what my 'normal' Christmas would be like, I'm gonna guess this is gonna be more fun."

"On what basis?"

"I don't know," Eric admitted. "It just feels like it's true." He shook his head. "Part of me wants to know who the he…who on earth I am and to quit with these weird flashes and sh…stuff. Part of me's starting to think that maybe you were right and I should just try living right now instead of wondering."

"Well," said Francie cautiously, wary lest she trigger his temper again, "I can safely say that staying in Freudesheim will stop you from brooding."

"Happy home isn't a quiet one, huh?"

"Eleven children, three wards, three adults and four spares," Francie answered. "Even allowing for Cecil, Phil and Geoff only being babes, it's going to be fairly lively."

"Lively," said a new voice, "may not be the word for it."

Francie looked up to see Jack had joined them in the entrance hall. She blushed and wondered how much of the conversation he'd been present for. But Jack merely smiled.

"If you're both ready, we'll go and see what sort of a mess Roger and Steve have been making with the lights."

Author:  wheelchairprincess [ 04 Dec 2006, 00:25 ]
Post subject: 

I'm really glad that Jack wasn't cross with Francie for not doing as she was told. Really interested to see where this is going!

Author:  Ray [ 04 Dec 2006, 10:04 ]
Post subject: 

Chapter 4

No sooner had Francie arrived back at Freudesheim than she was claimed by the triplets and Ruey, who promptly dragged her into the Speisesaal and all demanded to know how her arm was.

"Do you see a cast?" Francie retorted, grinning at the clamour.

"Well, no," admitted Ruey. "But still; Dr Peters might have said you were to spend the time resting." She finished this last in a tone of voice that suggested resting was something to be avoided at all costs.

Francie giggled. "No fear; I've just got to be careful. That's all."

"You'll be careful, all right," said Len firmly, "if we have to put you on a litter and carry you tomorrow!"

"What a hideous prospect!" Francie exclaimed. "You'll do no such thing!"

"I think she was joking," said Margot, chuckling.

"I was," Len admitted with a particularly wicked grin. "But you rose be-you-tifully." Francie grimaced at her friend, which just provoked some more chuckles.

"I say," said Ruey as the chuckles died down. "Was that Eric with you and uncle Jack?"

"It was," Francie answered, nodding.

"He must be heaps better, then," said Len.

"He is. He's still got no proper memories." Francie frowned. "Though I think some things have come back to him; just nothing solid."

"The mind heals at a different pace to the rest of the body," said Margot thoughtfully. "Didn't Mother say that when dad took that terrific whack to the head and they thought he was lost at sea he lost his memory too?"

Len nodded. "She did. And Papa's fine now," she added. "So I shouldn't worry too much about it."

Francie nodded. "I do try not to. But still…" She shivered.

"Come on," said Con, changing the subject. "Roger and Steve must be finished by now."

"Finished? What are they doing?" Francie asked. "And why are we in the Speisesaal?" she added belatedly.

"Roger and Steve have been trying to put up the Christmas tree lights," said Ruey impressively. "When, after their third failure to get them to light, we made a couple of helpful comments…"

"No, you and Margot laughed," said Con.

"I did suggest they should check the bulbs again," Len pointed out.

"I think they'd already thought of that," said Con.

"They threw us out of the salon," Ruey finished, apparently heedless of the interruptions.

Francie chuckled. "Mimsie and I always go out Christmas shopping when Robert gets the tree lights out; it's safer."

"Well, shall we go and see if they've finished yet?" Margot asked.

But the question became entirely moot as Roger entered the Speisesaal. "They're up," he said. "Just don't touch them!"

"Shouldn't dream of it," said Ruey.

"Do you know where Chas, Roddy and Mike are?" he continued.

"Upstairs somewhere," said Len. "Why?"

"They're going to help Steve and me get the greenery in," Roger answered in a tone that suggested he wouldn't be taking no from any of them without a very good excuse. He turned and started to leave the Speisesaal. "Unless you want any of them to help you decorate the tree?"

Len glanced around the group, then shook her head. "Not until the greenery's brought in," she said.

"OK." And with that, Roger departed.

"Well, shall we get to work?" asked Len.

"The tree's not going to decorate itself," Margot pointed out.

They left the Speisesaal and entered the Saal. At one end of the huge room, in front of the French windows, stood a huge Christmas tree, already lit with the gaily glowing coloured lights that Steve and Roger had been arguing with.

"Where do we start?" Francie asked.

"I'll go and get the steps," Ruey offered and suiting action to words, she shot off to find them.

"Con, can you do your trick with the bucket?" Len asked.

"I beg your pardon?" Francie goggled at Len, provoking a giggle from Margot and a sheepish grin from Len.

"I know it sounds mad," she explained, "but Con's the only one of us who can persuade the paper cover to stay on the bucket." And Len gestured to the rather ugly steel bucket the tree was standing in. "At least, we can do it too, but we have to resort to tape and it never looks as good."

Con, meantime had, at her sister's request, departed the room. She now returned with a length of red crepe paper and a pair of scissors. She knelt on the floor, at the base of the tree and with a few careful snips of the scissors and a couple of deft turns with her fingers, the bucket was covered with a smooth and, apparently, seamless red jacket.

"That do you, Len?" Con asked, standing up again, not quite stifling the smile at her work.

"I should say so." Len grinned.

There was a clatter in the hall and Ruey, with Reg and Eric – who, Francie noted, had exchanged the too-tight shirt and jacket for a different shirt and sweater that looked a far more comfortable fit – and the steps in tow entered the Saal.

"What can we do to help?" Reg asked as Ruey carefully leaned the steps against the wall in readiness. "And who's in charge of this here enterprise?"

"Len, probably," said Margot. "At least, she knows what Mother wants us to do."

"Always a good starting point," Eric observed.

"First things first," said Len. "Can anyone see the box of ornaments? Steve promised he'd brought them down with the lights, but I can't see them!"

"These?" Francie gestured to a large cardboard box that was filled with a wild assortment of ornaments and baubles and that appeared to be trying to hide behind the nearest of the sofas.

"Those are them," Len agreed with a cheerful disregard for grammar. "Mama says not to hang any of the glass ones low down or they'll be in danger from Bruno and little people. And other than that, I have no instructions." She grinned.

"Do you have some plain white candles?" Francie asked.

Looking blank, Con nodded. "We should have. Why though?"

"Well, we can't all decorate the tree," Francie pointed out sensibly. "And there's some decorations that I make at home that I can make here. All I need is a few candles, some scraps of ribbon and some sequins. Oh," she grinned, "and as many candle sticks as candles."

Reg's eyes sparked at her request. "Auntie used to make those," he said. "Won't you need pins, though?"

Francie grinned. "I've got those in my sewing kit. Come to think, I might have some ribbon, too." She turned to the triplets and Ruey. "What do you think?"

"It sounds like a good idea," said Len. "I'll run and beg some candles from Anna; Mama's bound to have some sequins somewhere. If you're going upstairs for your sewing kit, you can ask her for them. She's in the day nursery." As Francie turned towards the Saal door, Len added, "And you might ask her if Felix and Felicity have finished any paper chains; then we can put those up, too."

"Can do," Francie answered, nodding.

She left the Saal and raced upstairs to her room to dig out her sewing kit. From it, she abstracted her pin pot, her work scissors and two strips of plush green velvet which had come from a dress she'd made herself the previous Christmas. Noting that the material was fraying at the edge, she also retrieved the reel of matching cotton and a needle and grimaced. If there was one type of sewing she particularly loathed, it was hemming. On the other hand, the frayed edges would look untidy.

With another grimace, she carried her bounty out of her room and descended one floor to the day nursery, where the small-fry were engaged in making paper chains and assorted other decorations – and getting gloriously sticky in the process.

"Arm all healed, I see," said Joey as Francie entered.

Francie grinned. "It's so nice to have my whole hand to use again."

"So I should imagine." Joey grinned in response. "What can I do for you?"

"Len said you might have some sequins," Francie replied.

Joey's eyebrows lifted. "Should I ask why?"

"They're for some decorations," Francie answered. "She also said if there were any finished paper chains, could we have them to put up."

"Twins, are you finished?" Joey asked, glancing over at the milky-fair pair, who both had their heads bent over a lengthy string of coloured foil.

"I think so," said Felicity hesitantly. "I'm not sure it's long enough, though."

"But we've run out," Felix added. "So we can't do any more."

"Then run and take it down to Len in the Saal," Joey directed. "Carefully!" she added, when Felix looked as if he was going to take her literally at her word. Satisfied the twins were taking care with their hard work, she turned to Francie. "Now, we'll see if we can find some sequins for you."

Joey led Francie out of the day nursery and down to the light, airy room Joey used as an office. After rummaging through a couple of desk drawers, incidentally causing a small avalanche of papers from desktop to floor, Joey gave a whoop and produced an old cigar box.

"These should suit your purpose," she said, handing it over. "There's sequins and one or two other bits and pieces in there. All I ask is that you take care when picking them out; some of them are sharp and I've no desire to see blood before lunch!" and she chuckled infectiously.

Francie grinned. "I will," she promised.

"And you may tell Len that when Cecil has finished pasting her paper chain, she may have that, but I suspect that will be for the Speisesaal rather than the Saal unless I miss my guess about Felix and Felicity's hard work."

Joey bounded back upstairs at a speed that was more reminiscent of someone half her age, leaving Francie to carry her collection back into the Saal.

In her absence, Len had found six pure white candles, which were now lying on the low coffee table in front of the fire. The Christmas tree was beginning to look truly festive, thanks to the baubles and ornaments that Ruey, Con and Margot were hanging, while Len, Reg and Eric were, between them, wrestling with the lengthy snake of foil streamer that the twins had brought down.

"I have to ask," Eric was saying as Francie walked in, "what's this made of?"

"Scraps of foil from chocolates, mostly," said Len, from her position half way up the steps, trying to fix one end of the streamer into position. "Though the circular bits are milk bottle tops."

"So that was why Joey asked me to send them!" exclaimed Reg. "I did wonder."

"I think Mama must have begged them from the rest of the family, too," Len decided. "Unless you suddenly took to drinking every kind of milk under the sun."

Reg chuckled. "Not I; I only contributed some of the silver tops."

"Well it looks good," said Eric. "It'll look even better when it's up, though."

"Well, you put this wretched pin in, then!" Len objected, descending the steps. "It just won't go into the rail at all."

"Let me have a go," said Reg.

"Gladly." Len handed over the recalcitrant pin and the end of the streamer. At that moment, she spotted Francie and smiled. "Did you have any luck finding sequins?"

Francie set her burden down on the table, beside the candles, and gestured to the cigar box. "Your mother gave me a box full."

"Mama's like that," said Con, hanging a dainty glass bell on a high-up branch of the tree. "She's got all sorts of useful things tucked away."

"I don't suppose you saw any of the boys?" Ruey asked. "I'm sure they were supposed to be bringing in greenery to help decorate, but we haven't seen hide nor hair of them."

"I didn't," said Francie, sitting down in preparation for hemming the velvet. "But," she added as she caught the first beginnings of noise outside the Saal, "I think they're on their way."

And, as she threaded her needle with the cotton and picked up the first strip of velvet, Mike entered carrying an armful of ivy. He was followed by Steve and Charles, similarly burdened. Roddy came next, laden down with fir boughs and last was Roger, bearing holly branches.

"Where do you want these, Len?" Steve asked.

"Why does everyone think I'm in charge?" Len demanded.

Her brother smirked. "Because we know you. Where do you want them?"

Len uttered an ineffable snort. "I suppose one of you remembered to bring some newspaper in as well?" At the five blank expressions that met that remark, Len snorted again. "Hold on to them until I come back." And she disappeared.

Francie chuckled and began hemming the velvet. She was vaguely aware of Len returning and of the clatter of the five boys put down their armfuls of greenery, but it wasn't until someone said, "What're you doing?" that she realised Mike had come to stand in front of her and was intently watching what she was doing.

"I'm hemming this piece of velvet," Francie answered.

"Why?" he asked curiously.

"I'm going to use it to make some really fancy candles." Francie finished off the hem and trimmed the thread. She then picked up one of the candles and measured how much of the velvet she would need to wrap around the base of the candle.

"Can I help?" Mike asked, still watching intently.

Francie glanced around the room, unsure quite what to say and almost hoping for a rescue, but everyone else seemed to be occupied. "All right," she said finally, and was rewarded with a bright beaming smile. What would it be safe to have him do? Then her gaze fell on the box of sequins and an idea began to form. "If you sit down---" She trailed off as Mike abruptly sat down on the sofa beside her. "All right."

Francie swallowed nervously. She set down the candle and velvet and picked up the cigar box. After a quick glance inside, to make sure what she was about to request was in there, she turned to Mike and handed him the box.

"I want you to fish out any white, red, green or gold sequins from here," she explained. "Sort them into piles on the table; by colour and size." At Mike's puzzled look, she added, "So, for example, all the big gold ones are together, all the small white ones are together. That kind of thing." Mike nodded vigorously. "And you need to be careful picking them up. Some of them will be sharp. All right?" Mike nodded again. "All right."

As Mike got to work, Francie picked up the hemmed velvet and snipped off the length require to go around the bottom of the candle.

"You should have cut it up and then hemmed it," said Con severely as she passed, armed with sprays of ivy.

"You'll see why I didn't in a minute," Francie retorted.

She folded the small length of velvet in half, nap-side inwards, and swiftly stitched the two ends together, then turned the loop nap-side out and slipped it over the base of the candle.

Con whistled. "Very neat," she said. "I take it back."

Francie grinned. "Hadn't you better get that ivy to whoever wants it?"

Con grinned back and walked away. Francie turned her attention back to her velvet and proceeded to make four more identical loops, but the strip of velvet she'd hemmed ran out before she could make the base band for the last candle. 'Five will have to do,' she decided. 'I'm not hemming the whole strip just for one candle!'

She looked at the table and saw several neat little piles of sequins. To her surprise, in addition to the colours she'd mentioned, Mike had also selected some pearly looking ones and there was also a small pile of bright yellow stars.

"What now?" Mike asked.

"We're going to use the sequins to create a pattern on the candle."

"How?" asked Mike. "You can't glue onto wax."

That sounded like the voice of someone who'd tried. Francie decided she didn't want to know. "We're not going to." She opened her pin pot and selected a pin. She then chose a large red sequin and threaded it onto the pin, then pushed the pin into the candle until it was secure.

"Oooh." Mike's eyes lit up. "May I have a go?"

Francie nodded. "Just take care with the pins so we don't end up with pins on the floor."

Mike nodded and set to work decorating one of the candles. After making sure he would be all right, Francie continued the one she'd begun, weaving a festive pattern on the wax with the different coloured sequins. It was finicky work, but it was something she'd done so many times before that it almost felt like second nature and she worked swiftly.

"I only did one," Mike pouted. "You did four!"

"The first time I made these, I only managed one in the time it took my step-mother to do six," Francie pointed out. Mike looked mollified.

"Those are rather nifty," Margot observed, setting down some candlesticks on the table.

"They certainly are," agreed Ruey. "Where'd you learn to make them?"

"Mimsie showed me when I was about Mike's age," Francie admitted. "It's become my 'job' at Christmas – to make new ones."

"Well I think they look smashing," said Reg. "Auntie would have loved to see them."

"Where are we going to put them?" asked Con.

"In the Speisesaal, of course," said Len decisively. "On the table; where everyone can see them."

And despite Francie's self-conscious protestations, that's where they were placed.

"Why does being praised bother you?" Eric asked later, as they made their way upstairs to wash up before dinner.

"I don't know," Francie answered, shrugging. "I suppose I'm not used to it. I've done so much that's unpraiseworthy--- And I know; I should try and stop holding that against myself," she added, as Eric moved to interrupt.

He grinned. "I know; it's not easy."

"No, it's not."

"Any praise you get is merited, though, particularly for those candles." Eric stopped at the door of the room he was to use. "And you're probably going to hear that a lot."

"I know."

"So it might help if you didn't turn tomato colour every time it's mentioned."

"I know." Francie sighed. "I never know how to take praise."

Eric put his hand on the doorknob. "Smile and say thanks." And with that sage advice, he disappeared into his room.

Author:  Caty [ 04 Dec 2006, 11:58 ]
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*Bounces up and down* Yay. It's back. Goody goody goody. Thanks Ray

Author:  wheelchairprincess [ 04 Dec 2006, 14:45 ]
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Thanks Ray. I enjoyed this part.

Author:  Karoline [ 04 Dec 2006, 15:57 ]
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Glad to see this back Ray :)

Author:  Chelsea [ 04 Dec 2006, 16:13 ]
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Francie is so sweet with Mike. Good for her.

Author:  Jennie [ 04 Dec 2006, 22:12 ]
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Thanks, Ray. It's good to see Mike being praised, not blamed.

Author:  Lesley [ 04 Dec 2006, 22:55 ]
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Good to see this again -and Francie is really good with Mike.

Thanks Ray and minion.

Author:  Elder in Ontario [ 04 Dec 2006, 22:58 ]
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Thanks, Ray, this looks most interesting - a lovely combination of a true family Christmas expanded to include all these extended family members, and guests, too. It's good to see Francie's treatment of Mike and how well he responded to her guidance with the candle project. It's also good to see Eric trying to pursuade Francie into being more self-confident about her own skills here, too - hope she will get the praise she deserves for those candles from everyone else at Freudsheim, too.

Author:  Cath V-P [ 04 Dec 2006, 23:31 ]
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Oh it's good to read this again.

Thank you Ray.

Author:  Kathy_S [ 05 Dec 2006, 04:02 ]
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This is one of the parts I most remember, especially the interaction with Mike. :D

Thank you, Ray and minion.

Author:  Ray [ 05 Dec 2006, 19:48 ]
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This is the last of the chapters I have to post, so hopefully Ray will be back with more soon :D


Chapter 5

Francie woke early the following morning. The thrill of excitement pulled her from her bed long before the dawn was due to break and much earlier than even the earliest of the Maynard early risers. Wrapping herself up in her dressing gown to ward against the chill, she quietly crossed her room and turned the edge of the curtain back. Snow, or the likelihood, would kill any plans they may have made. But to her relief, there was not even a hint of snow on the ground. The clear skies and apparent stars suggested that frost was more than likely, but promised a day of good weather.

"Goody," she murmured, a grin spreading across her face, as she let the curtain drop back into place. "Exploring and a scramble; it should be a lot of fun."

There was a knock on her door. Then, softly, Len called, "Francie? Are you awake?"

Francie chuckled to herself. "It wouldn't do you much good if I wasn't."

Len entered the room, similarly wrapped up in her dressing gown, a sheepish grin on her face. "I know; it's a silly question – asking someone if they're awake." In strict defiance of Matey's edicts, she perched herself on the edge of Francie's bed. "We'll be getting an early start; Mama wants to make sure that we can get home while it's still light."

Francie nodded. "That makes sense." There was a lengthy pause. From the look on Len's face, Francie guessed there was more to this early morning visit than simply the information about breakfast. Whatever it was, though, Len was obviously struggling for the words. Francie sat down in the basket chair and tucked her feet up under herself. "What is it?" she asked.

Hesitantly, Len said, "You know what you asked me the other day? About Reg?" Francie nodded slowly. "What about Eric?" Len asked, turning pink. "Do you…like him?"

Francie ducked her head and studied her hands. "I don't know," she admitted. "I hadn't thought about it." But Len's question forced her to do just that and forced her to recognise that she had spent rather a lot of the last three months worrying and wondering about Eric. Given the circumstances, though, wasn't that only natural? "I barely know him," she finally said.

"True," Len agreed. "But that can change."

Francie shook her head. "How can I know him when he doesn't know himself?"

"You know that he's a good person," Len countered. "You know what matters."

"And what if he's, I don't know, an axe murderer or, or something."

Len stared at Francie for a second, and then started to giggle. "An axe murderer?" she asked.

Francie giggled a little sheepishly. "I know, it's a little ridiculous, but all the same." Her laughter died away. "All the same; knowing so little about him makes it difficult." She sighed. "And it's not as if the school authorities will permit me very much contact with him during term time. Assuming he stays here," she added as an after thought.

"Why wouldn't he stay here?" Len asked blankly.

"Why would he?" Francie responded. "He's not from here and now he's well again, what's to keep him here?"

Len gave her a meaningful look. "I think you know the answer to that."

Francie blushed at the implications and said nothing.

There was an awkward pause, into which the sound of someone knocking on the door seemed unnaturally loud. Both girls jumped.

"Francie?" Joey's voice was soft.

"I'm awake," Francie answered.

For reply, Joey poked her head around the door and then did a double take on seeing Len perched on the bed. "Breakfast's in half an hour," was all she said. "So you need to get a wriggle on, the pair of you."

As Joey withdrew again, Len stood up. "We should get moving," she observed.

"True." Francie nodded.

Francie watched as Len left the room. Was Len right? Was she the reason Eric might choose to stay here rather than moving on? It seemed rather incredible and, at the same time, rather gratifying. She gave herself a stern mental shake. 'I'm years too young to be worrying about this,' she decided. 'And at this rate, I shall be late for breakfast!'

With that reminder, Francie began her proper morning routine and managed to just avoid being late to breakfast. Her arrival in the Speisesaal did raise an eyebrow from Joey, but the only comment made was a question over whether or not she would have tea or coffee.

Francie opted for coffee once more and took her seat. Looking round the table, she was unsurprised to see that, apart from Jack, the only people present were those going on Joey's expedition. Ruey and Margot were discussing a lacrosse match with vim and point, while Con and Len seemed to be discussing (and disagreeing about) a novel they'd both read. Jack, Francie noted, didn't seem to be eating, although he was sipping coffee. He and Joey seemed to be discussing the day's plans, because as Francie reached for a slice of toast, Joey said,

"The youngsters are making cookies this morning. Or those that wish to, at least. I think Reg was going to suggest a kite flying expedition for anyone interested, too."

"Wonder if his kite'll fly this time," mused Margot with a smirk.

"Provided Steve hasn't got round it, it will," said Con.

"I think Steve's grown out of bashing kites into the ground," said Steve's mother, a twinkle in her eyes.

"Well that all seems like a good scheme," Jack approved. He pushed his cup away. "But you'll have to count me out of anything until at least lunch time."

"You do look a little under cooked," Joey agreed.

"I shall be better for some sleep." Jack stood up. "Have a good time." And with that, he departed.

"Stoke up," Joey invited as the Speisesaal door closed behind him. "We've got a good scramble ahead of us before we get our lunch and I'm not dealing with anyone feeling faint!"

By the time dawn began to break, the party was already out and on their way. Joey had insisted they all take rucksacks, into which she had ensured they had put assorted necessities including flasks of coffee and, to Francie's surprise, a torch each.

"Some parts of the path are overshadowed," she explained, "and I'm not of a mind to take risks."

The first part of the journey was an easy one, along a flat, curving path that led more or less from the gates of Freudesheim to the village of Bertental. Along the path, the party spread out into two little knots. The foremost party, which comprised Margot, Con and Ruey, were still discussing lacrosse with a vim probably worthy of a better cause. Francie found herself making up a second trio with Len and Joey, discussing the middles efforts during the term.

Somehow, Joey had missed Lower IV's new version of midnighting and she shouted with laughter as Francie recalled their justification of the affair.

"How ever did they think they'd get away with that?" Joey finally demanded.

"I don't think there was a great deal of thinking going on," Francie answered, grinning.

"No," said Joey thoughtfully. "I think perhaps you're right." Then she grinned. "It would make a lovely addition to my next book, but heaven knows, the last thing I want to do is give middles any more ideas!"

Len gurgled with laughter. "I don't think our present bunch would try it again; Auntie Hilda was rather squashing."

"So I should hope!" Joey looked up and realised the rest of the group were well out of sight. "I say, Len, you might run forwards and tell the merry lacrossers that they should slow down a little or else we'll never reach Wetterdorf."

"Can do." Len shot off, leaving Francie and Joey to follow at their own pace.

"I have to admit," said Joey, once Len was out of earshot, "I did have an ulterior motive. I wanted to have a quiet word with you, and this seemed like a good opportunity."

Francie suddenly felt unaccountably nervous, which must have shown in her expression because Joey's next words were kind.

"I'm not about to scold you. Far from it." She smiled. "Isn't it time you stopped expecting that each and every time someone in authority asks to speak to you?"

Francie blushed. Joey's words were echoes of things that both Eric and Len had said and yet she still found herself reverting to conscience searching. "I am trying to," she admitted.

"But the habits of half a life time are difficult to shed," Joey guessed. Dumbly, Francie nodded. "You'll get there." And such instant and unstinting confidence in her made Francie feel that she just might. "I just wanted to say thank you for yesterday."

"Yesterday?" Francie echoed, now thoroughly confused.

"All Mike could talk about last night was the fact that you let him help you with the candles and didn't order him about." Joey smiled a little sheepishly. "That tends to be what happens to him a lot of the time. He's that little bit too young for Chas and Steve to appreciate and that little bit too old to find a playmate in Felix, which leads to mischief and his older sisters, or me, telling him off."

"I was a little nervous about letting him help me," Francie found herself admitting. "I've never had much to do with boys his age."

"Well, I think you may have made a friend for life in Mike," said Joey. "And I rather think that you've added a new tradition to the Maynard family Christmas. Thank you."

Sparing Francie from having to find a response to this, they rounded a curve in the path and found the other four of the party waiting for them at the junction of two paths.

"Slow pokes!" Margot jeered.

Joey pulled a most remarkable grimace. "Brat," she responded. "We go up here," she continued, waving a hand at the left fork. "And here starts the scramble. So you'd be well advised to not go haring off again."

"We won't," Ruey promised.

Satisfied with that response, Joey led the way and it was soon obvious that she had prophesied truly. The path was a good one, but very steep, and after a few remarks, most people solidly applied themselves to conserving their breath for the climb. Just when Francie was beginning to think she might have to beg for a rest, though, the path levelled out and broadened. They also began to emerge from the trees. The left hand side of the path dropped away in a steep slope, while the right hand side rose sharply in a promising looking cliff.

"What's that noise?" Con asked.

"That's the stream," Joey answered from the head of the party. "You'll see it in a moment."

The path curved again and just at the start of a low rock wall, Joey stopped and waved a hand at the drop.

"Feast your eyes on that," she said.

With caution, Francie peered over the wall and down onto an amazing sight. A small stream was bawling its way down a sheer cliff and hurling itself down into a kind of funnel.

"Miraculous," Con breathed.

"Isn't it just," Margot agreed.

"That is definitely something special," Len decided.

"Where does it go beyond here?" Ruey asked.

"I'm not sure," Joey admitted. "Maybe we can trace it in the summer."

She gave them a little longer to absorb the scene, then demanded they get their torches out.

"Why ever?" Ruey demanded. "It's daylight now." And she waved a hand in a vague gesture as if to encompass the sunlight streaming down on the path.

"Here, yes," Joey agreed, unperturbed. "But the path is shadowed further round the curve, and though daylight it maybe, it's not as if this is mid-summer's afternoon."

In the face of that argument, Ruey meekly produced her torch.

They continued along the path and sure enough, as it curved round, the rock wall to the left gradually grew upwards, creating a kind of tunnel, which the early sunlight was struggling to penetrate. Francie was more than glad to switch her torch on and let that give her an idea of what she was stepping on, for the path at this point was uneven and fissured.

As they neared the tunnel's end, the path began to climb once more, though not as steeply as before. Conversations restarted as people found they had more breath to spare. Francie, for her part, found herself being drawn into Ruey's lacrosse discussion and a pleasant time was had as they argued good naturedly about the annual match between St Mildred's and the school proper – which, to Ruey's general disgust, the Millies had won comprehensively!

"You're not still complaining about that?" Margot was incredulous.

"We were the better team!" Ruey pointed out. "We should have won."

"And yet," said Con with a mischievous grin, "it was the Millies who managed to score more times."

"Luck," sniffed Ruey. "Pure luck."

Whether anyone would have had a retort to that, Francie never discovered, as at that moment, the path led them up onto a small alpine shelf. A few pine trees were dotted about, giving it the atmosphere of a forest clearing, but its chief feature was the wide stream that wound its way across the shelf, neatly bisecting it. It was nearly fully frozen, but even so, Francie wasn't sure how they would cross it and said so.

"Using the stepping stones," Joey replied. "The locals haven't bothered with a proper bridge because so few people use the path, but the stones are quite safe." She was first to cross. As she reached the other side, she added, "But you will need to take care; that second stone isn't terribly smooth and it's a little on the icy side."

"It would be!" said Len with a grin as she crossed.

Both Con and Margot managed the crossing safely as well.

"I'm not so sure I like this," Ruey commented as she prepared to cross.

"It's honestly not so bad, Ru," Margot answered.

Francie, crossing last, waited as Ruey began her crossing and watched as the younger girl stepped out onto the first stone. Later, she couldn't say what prompted her to move, beyond the sudden and certain knowledge that she simply had to. Ruey put her foot down on the uneven second stone and slipped. Francie, already moving, grabbed one of Ruey's flailing arms and tried to steady her.

Unfortunately for all concerned, the arm she reached out with was the one that had just come out of plaster and, as Ruey's weight tugged on it, Francie found her arm giving way under the strain. Even as she tried to compensate, Ruey slipped again.

Author:  kimothy [ 05 Dec 2006, 21:43 ]
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how could you leave it there??

Author:  Lesley [ 05 Dec 2006, 21:58 ]
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Oh good, a cliff. :lol:

Author:  Tara [ 05 Dec 2006, 23:57 ]
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Aaagh! (((Ruey and Francie))).

This is lovely, Ray, I'm very much enjoying it.

Author:  wheelchairprincess [ 06 Dec 2006, 00:12 ]
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I'm really enjoying this Ray and I hope you had a good time on holiday.

But what IS it about this board and cliff's tonight?! ARGH!

Author:  Ray [ 06 Dec 2006, 18:22 ]
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Mwahaha! See me cause trouble and chaos even when 3000 miles away from my computere :wink:

Thank you very, very much to Rayminion for posting in my absence and thank you all for enjoying what's been posted so far. There is new stuff to follow (in about three post's time) :) In the meantime, though, here's today's post :)

Chapter 6

For a few heart-stopping moments, Francie thought they would both end up in the stream, then she felt hands on her shoulders, steadying her, while Ruey's dead weight seemed to lessen. That was when she realised that Len and Margot had crossed back to help her.

"You can let go now," said Len gently. "Margot's got hold of Ruey."

Mechanically, Francie did as she was bidden and allowed Len to lead her away from the stream's edge. The next few moments were a little blurred. She was faintly aware of someone gently forcing her to drink some coffee and of someone else asking her if she'd hurt herself, but it wasn't until she realised she was actually shaking that things started to make any kind of sense again.

"I might have known I couldn't take you people on an expedition without at least one alarm," Joey observed, but her words were kind and Francie found herself smiling, particularly as Con immediately shot back, "But is it us, or is it you that's the trouble magnet?"

"I said I didn't like it," Ruey commented weakly. "I thought I was gone for all the world."

"I thought we were both gone," Francie admitted.

"Well thankfully, neither of you were," said Joey firmly. "Now, are you both all right? Do you think you can carry on?"

"I'm OK, Auntie Joey," Ruey answered. "Though my shoulder's a little sore – Francie did rather yank, not that I'm exactly complaining!" she added.

"My arm hurts a little," Francie confessed.

"It's the one that just came out of plaster, isn't it?" Con asked.

Francie nodded. "I didn't think about it."

"Small wonder, really," said Joey. "We'll get Dr Jack to take a look at you both when we get back." She pulled a first aid box from her rucksack and from it she produced a couple of triangular bandages. "Here, the pair of you; I think we'll be safe rather than sorry."

Francie meekly submitted to having her arm put into a sling, admitting that perhaps 'a little' was beginning to feel like an understatement. Ruey was a different story.

"I'm all right, Auntie Joey; honest," she protested. "It's just a bit sore. I don't need a sling." Joey gave her a look. To prove there was nothing wrong with her shoulder, Ruey promptly demonstrated her bowling action – nearly braining Margot in the process.

"Ruey you're a positive menace!" Margot complained.

Joey gave Ruey another look, but relented and put away the second bandage. "Don't complain to me later," she warned, pulling her rucksack back onto her back. "All right; we'll try again." She grinned. "I don't know about you people, but I'm starting to want my lunch and there's a very decent Gasthaus in Wetterdorf."

Of the rest of that walk, Francie preferred not to think. Though the sling greatly improved how her arm was feeling, it did make it considerably more difficult for her to make her way up the steep and challenging path. A couple of sections were only passable with the help of Len and Margot and Francie almost wished she'd turned back, except that she knew there was almost no way she'd have been able to manage the very steep beginning section.

By the time they reached the shelf on which Wetterdorf nestled, Francie was at the end of her tether. Perhaps guessing this, Joey dispatched Con to the Gasthaus, bidding her to ask Herr Jakob Emmerich if he was ready for them. She then insisted that Len and Margot make a queen's chair and carry Francie across to the Gasthaus, which was at the far end of the shelf. Francie would have liked to argue, but didn't feel up to it, and as a result, she finished the journey in state.

They were met at the door by Herr Jakob who, after bidding them welcome, insisted on carrying Francie into the Speisesaal, where Con was already ensconced.

"There's coffee if you want it yet," Con said as the rest of the party joined them. "And Herr Jakob said that Mittagessen would be no more than five minutes away."

"Coffee does sound good," Francie admitted wearily.

Joey poured her a cup and handed it to her. "How is your arm feeling?" she asked.

"Better, I think," Francie replied cautiously. "I'm sorry to be a nuisance…"

"Rot," said Joey bracingly. "Ruey slipped, and while I dare say, she might have taken a little more care," at which Ruey blushed and ducked her head in tacit admission, "it was an accident. You did the right thing and never be sorry for that. And I expect," she wound up, "that all that's happened is you've strained some muscles. They'll probably be sore for a few days, but better that than the alternative."

"Oh, definitely better that," Francie agreed, shuddering.

"And here," said Len, jumping in at that moment, "comes our soup."

The truth of that statement was made plain as Herr Jakob and his wife arrived carrying trays of steaming hot soup and conversation was shelved in deference to eating.

Kaassuppe with crusty new rolls was followed by sliced kalbsbratten with buttery, golden potato balls, all served in a piquant sauce, while dessert was hollow pastry rolls stuffed with cream and served with a chocolate sauce. More coffee then rounded off the meal. By which time, Francie was feeling much better, and when Joey suggested they explored Wetterdorf a little, she was quite ready to join in the fun. Even so, she was more than grateful to discover that their homeward journey would be done from the comfort of Minnie, Joey having phoned Freudesheim and arranged for them to be met on the post road.

As they arrived back at Freudesheim, though, the first flakes of snow began to fall.

Cocking an eye towards the rapidly darkening sky, Joey said, "This means business. I rather suspect that it will put a stopper to any outdoor plans we might have for tomorrow."

"Oh, surely not!" objected Reg, who had been waiting for their arrival. "It's just a few light flakes."

Jack grinned. "It's a few light flakes now. But in these parts, a few flakes can soon become a raging blizzard and I, for one, don't like the way the clouds have gathered." He ushered the party into the house and safely out of any prospective blizzard.

Once indoors, both Francie and Ruey found themselves put into the care of the two doctors in the house. While Ruey, protesting every step, was led off by Jack, Francie was gently guided into the den by Reg. He asked one or two trenchant questions and then carefully investigated her arm before diagnosing severe muscle strains.

"Nothing too serious," he said, anointing the abused arm with a liniment lotion, "but I'd suggest using a sling tomorrow, at least, and use your arm as little as possible." He paused to offer a grin. "No more wild adventures."

Francie grinned weakly in response. "I can't say I exactly set out to have this one."

"It's all right, I know that Joey can be a little bit of an adventure magnet," Reg replied. "So can the triplets, for that matter."

That provoked a chuckle from Francie. "That's certainly true."

"All right; I'm done." Reg finished by refastening the sling. "I suggest, though, that you get an early night. Between the excitement and the exercise, I suspect you're probably not feeling your best."

"I'm not," Francie owned.

"Then don't feel you have to stay up beyond supper," Reg advised. "You don't want to feel like a wet week tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Francie echoed blankly.

"Christmas Eve," Reg answered with a smile. "From everything the boys have told me, any excitement you've had today will be beaten by tomorrow."

Author:  LizB [ 06 Dec 2006, 22:03 ]
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*looking forward to Christmas Eve*

Thanks, Ray :D

Author:  Vikki [ 07 Dec 2006, 00:05 ]
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Tis fab to have this back Ray!

Author:  wheelchairprincess [ 07 Dec 2006, 00:08 ]
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Oooh Christmas Eve. We always have fun but something tells me this is going to be even more fun, LOL

Author:  Ray [ 07 Dec 2006, 19:33 ]
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Chapter 7

It was ten o'clock before Francie finally woke up, stiff and sore but otherwise refreshed. She was immediately aware of there being someone peeking through the crack between door and door-post.

"Who is it?" she called.

Mike's tousled head immediately appeared. "I didn't wake you up, did I?" he asked. "Mama made me promise I wouldn't!"

Francie mustered a smile. "You didn't; it's all right."

She was rewarded by a beaming smile. "Would you like some breakfast?" he asked.

"Yes please," Francie answered, suddenly aware that she was very hungry.

"OK!" Mike withdrew his head from the room and went tearing off downstairs.

Francie chuckled. She had been a little inclined to think Joey had been overstating things the previous day when she had said Mike would be a friend for life, but apparently she hadn't been. 'Perhaps his ardour will wear off once the holidays are over,' Francie mused.

She was just debating whether she should get up when she heard quick light footsteps outside her door. A moment later and there was a knock.

"May I come in?" Joey asked.

"Of course." Francie wriggled up the bed until she was sitting up as Joey walked in. In the latter's arms was a breakfast tray, which she deposited on the bedside table.

"I won't bother to draw the curtains," Joey said, turning on the light as she spoke. "It's snowing fit to bust this morning, which means no church this evening under any circumstances." She turned to face the bed. "Hm, yes; you look a lot better this morning. You were definitely on the washed out side when you went to bed."

"I do feel heaps better," Francie admitted.

"Good." Joey smiled. "Now, I haven't brought you a huge breakfast; lunch is in just under two hours and I can promise you that between Mike, Eric, Reg and Ruey, you won't need to exert yourself much in those two hours!"

Francie giggled. "It sounds like a regular retinue."

"It is, at that," Joey agreed, grinning. She lifted the tray and set it on Francie's lap. "I've brought you up a pot of coffee, but if you want tea, just say so."

"Coffee is fine," Francie answered.



"All right. I expect one of your retinue will probably be up to collect the tray when you've finished. We're all down in the Saal, when you're ready." And with that, Joey departed.

Francie turned her attention to the breakfast tray. Three slices of toast, spread lavishly with Anna's rich blackcurrant jam, disappeared rapidly, as did the contents of the coffee-pot. By the time she had finished, Francie felt considerably better. She debated whether she should try to move the tray herself, or if she ought to wait until someone came up to check how she was getting on.

That conundrum was solved a moment later as there was a knock on the door.

"May I come in?" Reg asked.

"Of course," Francie answered.

Reg appeared. "Finished breakfast?" he asked.

"Yes thanks."

Without any prompting, Reg removed the tray, setting it back on the bedside table. "Right," he said. "Let's have a look at that arm again."

"It does feel better this morning," Francie said. "It's a bit stiff, but otherwise all right."

"Not sore at all?" Reg sounded sceptical.

Francie blushed. "Maybe a little sore, still."

Reg grinned. "You are allowed to be still hurt this morning; promise. It was a nasty wrench your arm got and I don't suppose Ruey's exactly a lightweight when she's floundering for balance." Francie said nothing. "I'll apply some more liniment and then you can get dressed while I take the tray downstairs. I'll then come back do the sling for you. How does that sound?"

"That sounds fine," Francie admitted.

"All right then." Gently, Reg applied the liniment to her arm and then popped the tube of liniment back into his pocket and picked up the breakfast tray. "See you in a couple of minutes."

As he departed, Francie got up and proceeded to make haste with her toilette and dressing. The latter proved to be an interesting experience as she found she couldn't bend or raise her arm enough to get a jumper on and, instead, had to settle for a cardigan.

She was just finishing brushing her hair, awkwardly, since she was having to use her other hand for the task, when Reg returned.

"All ready?" he asked. Francie nodded. "All right, then." He deftly tied her injured arm up in the sling. "There we go. We'll start a course of massage tomorrow, so that we can cure the weakness and so that you can be properly active again."

"Tomorrow?" Francie blinked. "But it's Christmas!"

"And muscles need help regardless of the season," said Reg. "Besides, I'm told that when the snow stops there'll be skiing on offer, and I'm sure you've had enough of missing out on that kind of fun already."

"That's true," Francie agreed. "All right then. If you don't mind?"

"I don't," said Reg. "Shouldn't have suggested it if I did. Now; suppose we go downstairs before anyone thinks I've murdered you and am hiding the body!"

Francie giggled. "Can't let anyone think that."

She followed Reg downstairs and into the Saal where, to Francie's surprise, the whole clan had gathered. The nursery folk, with the addition of Felix, Felicity and Roddy were clustered around Joey who, from the sounds of things, was telling them a story. At the other end of the Saal, the triplets, Ruey, Roger and Steve were apparently inducting Eric into the mysteries of Monopoly. Charles was curled up on one of the basket chairs, although he appeared to be paying the Monopoly game more attention than he was the open book in his lap, while Mike was in another chair apparently playing solitaire. In fact, the only absentees were Jack, Anna and Rösli. The latter two Francie guessed were presumably in the kitchen, but Jack's absence was a mystery.

At that moment, Mike looked up from his game and promptly upset the contents of his solitaire board all over the floor as his eyes fell on Francie. Before Francie knew quite what had happened, she found herself sitting on the sofa in front of the roaring log fire with practically everyone surrounding her and offering to get her a drink, or a cushion, or a biscuit, or anything else they could think of!

"Stop it!" Reg finally cut in, taking pity on her. "You can't be killed by kindness, but there's no need to try and make Francie the exception to the rule!"

There were one or two sheepish expressions amongst the group and the babble of noise ceased.

Amused, Reg continued, "Right, then; what are we doing this morning?"

"Michael," said Joey, who had, unnoticed, joined the group "is going to pick up the solitaire marbles, before we have two injured parties on hand thanks to someone standing on one of them!"

Mike blushed and hastily started scrabbling for the marbles.

"Then," Joey continued, "since it's a filthy day out, I'm going to suggest some paper games. Steve, run and get some paper and pens from the den, please?"

Steve did as he was asked. He returned a moment or two later with a ream of typing paper and a fistful of pens. Then, while Cecil and the second twins amused themselves, everyone, including Jack, when he appeared, became absorbed in hysterical rounds of 'Book Reviews' and 'Consequences'. So much so that it wasn't until Anna appeared in their midst and stated, in amused tones, that lunch was ready that any of them realised the morning was more than over and that the fire needed stoking!

Lunch was a light affair, consisting chiefly of thick tomato soup with warm crusty rolls and fruit for desert for those who wanted it. Afterwards, Joey banished everyone upstairs.

"I don't say you must lie down," she said, "but I do say that you should all have a restful afternoon. Boys," she added, "you may work on your railway, if you wish. But no running around."

Francie, after a little consideration, opted to catch up on her reading. She curled up in the basket chair in her room and snuggled under the counterpane from her bed for extra warmth. But she'd barely got three pages into her book when there was a knock on the door to her room.

"Come in," she called.

Eric appeared in the doorway. "Hi," he said. "You busy?"

Francie smiled. "Just rereading one of favourite books," she replied, holding up her book for him to see.

"Oh. I'll leave you in peace, then." Eric started to turn away.

"Don't be silly," Francie retorted. "I've read this enough times to quote you large quantities of it." So saying, she put the book down on the desk. "Come in – and close the door; it's not warm enough to leave doors open!" she added, laughing.

Eric mustered a faint smile at the humour, but it didn't even come close to reaching his eyes and for the first time, Francie noted that he looked pale and tired. As he entered the room, closing the door behind him as requested, she sprang up out of the basket chair and more or less bullied him into it.

"Sit," she directed, "before you fall."

"I'm not Bruno," Eric objected, but there was no mistaking his relief at sitting down all the same.

"I'm going to scrounge you a cup of coffee," Francie warned. "Then you can tell me what's wrong."

"I'm supposed to be looking after you," Eric pointed out.

"Raspberries to that," Francie retorted. "Back in a moment." And heedless of any injunctions not to run around, she trotted down to the kitchens where Joey and Anna were busy in confab.

"What are you doing down here?" Joey demanded on seeing her. "Didn't I say everyone upstairs?" If her words were tart, her tone was not and there was a warm sense of amusement in Joey's expression. "I should have known we'd be disturbed," she added to Anna, who grinned.

Francie smiled. "I wanted to scrounge some coffee," she explained. "For Eric."

At the mention of Eric's name, the amusement left Joey's face. "I see," was all she said, even as Anna rose to begin making coffee.

"Is there something wrong?" Francie asked.

"We don't know," Joey admitted. "We think he hasn't been sleeping well since leaving the San, but even Jack at his most persuasive can't get more than vague excuses from him. It may be," she mused, "that he will confide in you. After all, he knows and trusts you; Jack and I are still comparative strangers to him."

Francie nodded. There was a certain amount of logic to that statement; Eric hadn't been one of Jack's patients at the San, he'd been under the care of Dr Graves, and she was the person he knew best. On the other hand, the responsibility of it seemed positively terrifying.

Something of this must have shown on her face, for Joey's next words were, "Don't let it worry you. Just be a friend. Something tells me that's what Eric needs more than anything else."

Francie nodded again. "I'll do my best," she promised.

Anna finished making the coffee and, to Francie's surprise, rather than pouring out a cup, made up a tray, complete with lemon biscuits. When Francie went to try and pick it up, the Tyrolean shook her head. "Nein, mein Kind. Ich werde es tragen. Deiner Arm ist verletzt," she said sternly.

Francie blushed and meekly submitted to leading Anna upstairs. Eric's eyes widened a little on seeing Anna carrying a tray into the room, but he made no comment.

"Vielen Dank, Anna," said Francie as Anna set the tray down on the desk.

"Bitte Schon," Anna answered with a smile. Then, with a brief nod in Eric's direction, she departed, closing the door behind her.

"I thought you were just going for a cup?" said Eric.

"I was," Francie admitted, pouring coffee from the jug. "But when I explained what I wanted it for, this was the result. Milk? Sugar?"

"No and one lump, please."

"I think Anna likes you," Francie added, holding out the biscuit plate. "Not everyone is treated to her famous lemon biscuits."

Eric smiled faintly and accepted a biscuit. "I guess I'm honoured, then."

Once they both had cups of coffee, Francie carefully perched on the end of her bed and waited to see if Eric would begin. When he didn't, she carefully said, "I presume you wanted to talk to me?"

Eric studied his coffee cup as if the answers to whatever was bothering him were to be found in the bottom of it. "I guess you probably already figured; I haven't been sleeping too well since I came here."

"You do look tired," Francie agreed.

Another faint smile. "I feel worse."

There was a pause, almost as if that statement had used up Eric's quota of words for the day. Francie let it persist for a minute or two, debating whether to ask the obvious next question. Then Eric said,

"I'm having dreams." The next words came out in a torrent. "I don't understand them, half the time. They're about people. Places. I don't recognise anything and yet, I know things about them. There's one, a girl. She's younger than you – about Jack Lambert's age – though she doesn't look it. She looks nice. Kind. And she's saying stuff to me and smiling and laughing. And I know---" Eric swallowed. "I know she's lying. I know that I can't trust her."

"Perhaps," said Francie carefully, "they're memories. Things the amnesia's not letting you remember."

"Then I don't ever want to remember," Eric answered, shuddering hard enough to slop coffee into his saucer. "There's pain in what I dream about. Things I don't even know how to describe to you. Things I shouldn't describe to you." He studied the contents of his coffee cup once more. "If they're memories, they're of things that I've done that I shouldn't have."

Matter of factly, Francie said, "Find someone who hasn't done things they shouldn't. I spent four years, more or less, doing just that; remember?"

"I've killed people."

The words were softly spoken, as if Eric was afraid of what would happen once they were understood. And for a moment, the statement did take Francie aback. Then she remembered the dogtags, and his explanation of what they were. Setting her cup on the floor, Francie moved to kneel in front of Eric, giving him no chance of avoiding her gaze. "You were a soldier," she said, taking one of his hands in her own and giving it a gentle squeeze. "I don't imagine you fought in the war, because I shouldn't imagine you're that much older than I am. But you may well have fought in Korea, or somewhere else more recently than that."

"But does that make it right? What I dream about doesn't feel right."

"Perhaps," said Francie, "it might help you to talk to Dr Jack. He didn't fight in the war, but he served, with the Navy, as a doctor. I can't imagine what going to war is like; Dr Jack knows." She hesitated a moment, waiting to see if Eric would say anything in response. When he didn't, she added, "Don't forget, though, that these might not be memories. It could be anything. Goodness knows, I've dreamed about some odd and disturbing things before now." And she mustered a smile.

A bleak smile flashed across Eric's face in return. "I hope you never dream of this kind of thing. It's something that no-one should see. Feel. Know."

"Surely it can't all be bad," Francie persisted, giving his hand another squeeze. "Even at my oddest, my dreams are never all terrible."

Another faint smile crossed Eric's face. "Well, there is one thing. It's even weirder than the rest of it, but I see it and I smile."

"What is it?"

"The night-time sky. Silly, isn't it?"

"No." Francie shook her head vigorously. "It's not at all." She smiled shyly. "Sometimes in the summer, when I'm at home, I like to sneak out at night. I go out into our garden and I look up and on a clear night, you can see so many stars. It's so peaceful and still, and whatever might have been bothering me during the day suddenly doesn't seem so important because I can see just how insignificant I am compared to that vastness."

Their eyes met as Francie finished speaking. The way Eric was looking at her made Francie's breath catch in her throat and her heartbeat quicken. He started to lean down, as if he was going to kiss her, and Francie froze; terrified that he would but unable to move away.

And then the moment was shattered beyond repair by a knock on the door. Francie all but flew back to the bed, nearly knocking over her discarded cup as she did so. As she rescued it, she called, "Come in," hoping that her voice would sound steady rather than reflecting the way she was trembling inside.

The knocker proved to be Len. "Mama said you had a plate of biscuits," she said. "Do you mind awfully if I snaffle it for the nursery?"

"No. Of course not." Francie mustered a quick smile. "Help yourself."

Len smiled back in thanks, abstracted the plate of biscuits from the tray and left the room again, closing the door behind her. Francie listened as Len's footsteps died away. Once she was positive that astute young woman was out of earshot, she opened her mouth to say something, but Eric got in first.

"I'm sorry; that should never have happened. I--- You're right. I should go and speak to Jack. Thank you for the coffee."

Eric rose, setting his cup, still only part drunk, back on the tray. He hesitated a moment, then left the room, and for the life of her, Francie couldn't move to stop him.

Author:  wheelchairprincess [ 07 Dec 2006, 23:42 ]
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ooh a shiny new post. But what exactly is Eric's story? Will he ever get his memory back? And is he going to end up with Francie or not?!

Author:  Lesley [ 08 Dec 2006, 00:20 ]
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Thanks for this Ray - pleased we're seeing all this before you post the new stuff.

Author:  Tara [ 08 Dec 2006, 00:32 ]
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Missed this first time around, so very glad of the opportunity to catch up. Enjoying it a lot.

Author:  Kathy_S [ 08 Dec 2006, 03:23 ]
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Thanks again, Ray. :)

Author:  LizB [ 08 Dec 2006, 09:38 ]
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Thanks Ray - I'm loving this just as much this time round (and looking forward to the new stuff too) :D

Author:  Ray [ 09 Dec 2006, 11:07 ]
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Whoops; forgot yesterday's post, so there'll be two posts today, which will mean the new stuff will begin tomorrow.

Eric's story...well that's a kind of complicated one :wink: but you'll definitely get some more of it as the rest of this story unfolds :)

Thank you again - glad you're all enjoying it.

Chapter 8

The rest of the afternoon passed Francie by in a haze. She tried to go back to reading, but even the familiarity of "The Scarlet Pimpernel" was no match for the turmoil in her mind.

Eric had been going to kiss her.

Part of her was frightened by it all. No-one had ever looked at her in quite that way before and it had been the single last thing she'd expected from Eric. But, on the other hand, Len had seemed rather sure Eric liked her in that way and didn't that normally mean being kissed? Then there was the assertion she'd made to herself only the day before that she was too young to be thinking of things like this. And yet, weren't girls her age going to dances and meeting boys back home?

It was all so confusing and the worst part was, much as she would like to talk about it all with someone, she could think of no-one to confide in. The triplets and Ruey would probably be as confused as she was, while talking to Joey or Jack seemed likely to only end with both herself and Eric in hot water for things that just weren't done. That would certainly be Mimsie's reaction, were the subject to ever come up in that quarter, and surely Jack and Joey's thoughts would be the same?

She was sufficiently lost in her thoughts that it was only when a voice said, "Penny for them?" she realised that she was no longer alone.

With a start, she looked up to find Len giving her a rather curious look. "I'm sorry; I was miles away."

Len's eyebrows climbed. "Miles? I should think you were positively continents away. Mama sent me up to see if you had any plans on joining us for tea?"

Francie blinked. "It's tea time?"

Len nodded. "It certainly is."

"I didn't realise." Francie blushed. Then, with the thought that Eric would be present at the table, she blushed again. How on earth was she supposed to face him?

Len gave her another lengthy look. "Are you all right?" she asked.

Francie heaved a gusty sigh. "I don't know."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Len immediately asked.

Francie studied her hands for a moment. "I'd like to but…" She sighed again. "It's complicated."

"Whatever it is," said a new voice, "it can't be that bad." To Francie's horror, Joey was standing in the doorway, looking a mixture of concerned and amused. "Len, I should cut along to tea, and tell your father that we'll be down in due course."

Len nodded and departed, leaving Francie alone with Joey.

There was a moment of awkward silence as Joey came into the room, closing the door behind her. Francie wished that she were just about anywhere but here.

"I'm not going to bite," Joey promised, perching on the edge of the bed. "And whatever it is, it can't be the end of the world."

Francie said nothing and simply stared at her hands. How on earth was she going to get out of this?

"It must be something to do with Eric," Joey continued, her voice soft and gentle.

Francie blushed hotly and remained silent.

"And perhaps, it was something you weren't expecting." Joey paused. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to. I know I never had the easiest of times confiding this kind of thing in my sister and I never felt that any of my friends would understand either."

Francie winced. That was all too close to the mark.

"But whatever it is, you will feel better if you talk to someone." Joey paused again. "And you might be surprised how much your friends do understand."

Francie said nothing and for a few moments, there was more awkward silence.

"They always say that thirteen to fifteen is a difficult time," Joey observed presently. "You don't know what to make of yourself and you're neither fish nor flesh nor good red herring. But I think it's much harder in your last couple of years at school, when you have just as many things changing in your life but you're supposed to be sensible about it."

At that, Francie jerked her head up, surprised. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"It's not easy," said Joey, "finding out that someone thinks the world of you. I think it was Frieda, or possibly Simone, who first noticed that Jack was interested in me beyond friendship. I didn't want to believe them at first, in fact, to tell you the truth, I was scared to believe them, because that meant I would have to grow up. So for a few days, at least, I simply avoided him, as if that would solve the problem." Joey chuckled infectiously. "Of course, it didn't help at all. I spent those few days doing nothing but thinking about him, which made me inattentive to just about anything. That was when Herr Laubach threw me out of art lessons for good, I think." At the reference to one of the school's more cherished legends even Francie managed a chuckle.

"What made you stop?" she asked.

"I talked with Frieda and then with her sister-in-law, Gisela – the school's very first Head Girl – and they both pointed out that it's not something to be ashamed about, or scared of." Joey smiled. "The only time it's a problem is when you do what I did and spend hours simply mooning over it all. I suspect," Joey added, tucking her feet up underneath her in a fashion that immediately made her look no older than Francie herself, "if you asked some of your form mates, you might find some surprising answers to the questions you've got."

Francie blinked. That was something that hadn't occurred to her.

"So," Joey continued, "what happened that made you realise?"

"You knew already?" Francie exclaimed, stunned.

Joey chuckled. "I'm sorry; you look so pussystruck," she apologised. "I have a feeling I've known longer than Eric has. Then again, I've also got the benefit of all my memories and quite a lot of experience."

Francie blushed. "Oh." She looked down at her hands again. This whole conversation was vastly different to the one she'd imagined. She was positive that, had Mimsie been the one doing the interrogation, Eric would have already been barred from the house. Yet Joey seemed accepting of it. The question was, would that still be the case if Francie answered her question?

"It's obviously something you think I mightn't approve of," Joey observed shrewdly.

In a very small voice, Francie said, "We almost kissed."

There was an electric moment of silence at that, then Joey said, "You were worried about telling tales, and landing Eric in hot water?" Francie nodded. "Well you needn't worry about that. Neither of you are in trouble. Got it?"

"Got it."

"What happens will happen," Joey continued uncurling herself and standing up again, "and worrying about it won't make matters any better." She crossed to the basket chair and crouched beside it. "My advice to you is this: Enjoy the friendship you have now. And don't make the same mistake I made and end up making yourself miserable; it's not worth it." A mischievous smile crossed her face. "Something tells me that between Mike and the fun we've got planned for this evening, you won't have much chance for brooding. Now." Joey got to her feet and held a hand out to Francie. "I don't know about you, but I could just do with a cup of tea. Coming?"

Tea was almost over by the time Francie and Joey entered the Speisesaal. In fact, the only people left were Len, Cecil, Jack and Reg. The latter two, as far as Francie could tell, were having an in depth discussion about medical matters, while Len was clearly overseeing Cecil's meal and making sure the youngster didn't get into too much of a state with her brioches and jam.

"Make a good meal," Joey warned as she sat down at the table. "Supper will be later tonight."

Francie nodded and proceeded to do so. Brioches were a rarity and therefore something to be enjoyed when they were available. They were followed by a similar treat in the shape of cakes that were all honey and nuts and that melted in the mouth. There were also warm, crusty rolls and the expected pots of jam, if the cakes and brioches weren't enough!

As Francie buttered her second brioche she wondered just what Joey had meant by her final remark about Mike and the evening ahead.

"Whatever it is, it can't be that bad," Len observed.

"Pardon?" Francie said blankly.

"You're frowning rather portentously," Len answered with a grin.

"I'm sure I wasn't!"

"Well, you certainly looked as if you had a lot on your mind," Len amended.

Francie chuckled. "Sorry. I was just thinking about tonight. Do you know what's planned?"

"No," said Len. "Mama's being most aggravating."

"Patience," said her mother serenely, "is a virtue you two."

Len grinned at Francie. "See?"

Francie grinned back. "I do."

Len sighed in exaggerated fashion. "I suppose this means you're not going to give us a hint, then?"

"Not the merest sniff of one," said Joey firmly. Then, with a glance at Jack and Reg who were both grinning widely. "And don't either of you do it either," she warned.

"We wouldn't dream of it," said Reg.

"Our lives wouldn't be worth living," said Jack. "In fact, we'll be going now." And so saying, both he and Reg departed the Speisesaal.

Joey chuckled. Len and Francie exchanged resigned looks, but before either of them could say a word more, Mike entered the room.

"Please," he began a little shyly, "Francie, can you help me with something?" Then, having made his request, he stood beside the table, twisting his hands and generally looking nervous.

Francie glanced at Len and then Joey. Len looked as bemused as Francie felt; Joey looked inscrutable. Perhaps this, then, was what Joey had meant earlier.

"It's not for anything naughty," Mike felt moved to add at this juncture, whereat his eldest sister promptly choked and then dived beneath the table on some pretext.

Francie was within an ace of emulating Len, but with Mike standing right beside her, there was no way for her to do so without upsetting him. So with a massive effort, she managed to keep a straight face, although there was a slight tremor in her voice as she said, "I should hope it wasn't."

"Will you help me?" Mike asked. "Please?"

Francie glanced at her tea plate. "Does it have to be right this minute?" she asked. "Or may I finish my tea first?"

Mike's face fell a fraction. "Oh."

"Just because you inhale your food," said Joey somewhat sternly, "it doesn't mean other folk do." Mike's face fell another fraction.

"Tell you what," said Francie, "how about you give me another ten minutes, then I'll be ready for you. How's that?"


"I promise."

Mike's face brightened considerably and he departed with a broad grin on his face.

"Don't," said Joey warningly, "give yourself indigestion on Mike's behalf."

"I shan't," Francie answered, grinning. "I am almost finished."

"And Len," Joey continued, "for pity's sake stop grovelling beneath the table; Mike's gone now."

Len slowly sat up, her face bright red from a combination of embarrassment and suppressed laughter. "Sorry, mama," she murmured penitently.

Joey shook her head, a fond but exasperated expression on her face.

"But it was funny," Len pointed out.

That was something Joey couldn't deny. Instead, she said, "Well, when you've both finished, can you take your things through to the kitchen and then you may amuse yourselves until six o'clock."

"What happens then?" asked Len irrepressibly.

But Joey wasn't going to be caught out. She just smiled. "You'll see."

And with that, she departed, taking a wide-eyed and sticky Cecil with her.

"Is everything OK?" Len asked once Joey was out of earshot.

Francie smiled. "I think I'm getting there." She looked down at her plate for a moment. "You know what you asked me the other day, about Eric?" Len nodded. "I'm still not sure about me, but I think I know how he feels."

"O-oh." Len turned pink. "And…does he?"

It was Francie's turn to nod. "I found out this afternoon." To judge from Len's expression, she was rapidly putting two and two together and coming up with at least nine, so Francie hastily added, "I don't mean anything happened. It didn't!" She grinned a little. "In fact, your arrival in the quest for biscuits prevented it."

"My quest for…" Len blinked. "Oh. Oh!" She blushed again. "I didn't realise."

"It's all right," Francie replied. "It was probably just as well nothing did happen."

More than that she couldn't say as at that moment, Mike entered again, looking hopeful.

"Are you nearly ready?" he asked.

"Mike!" Len complained. "Have a little patience."

"It's OK," said Francie, seeing Mike's face drop. "I am finished," she agreed, "and I was just about to come and find you."

After giving a rather dubious look, Len said, "In that case, want me to take your things through to Anna? Then Mike'll have your undivided attention."

Francie nodded. "Thanks. All right then, Mike; lead on."

Mike looked ecstatic. "Thank you!" he exclaimed, giving broad smiles to both Francie and Len. "It's this way."

Author:  Lesley [ 09 Dec 2006, 11:25 ]
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Joey was really rather lovely there.

And love how Mike has adopted Francie - sad in a way - have none of his own family given him a little attention?

Thanks Ray.

Author:  Nell [ 09 Dec 2006, 12:32 ]
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Great to see this back and to refresh my memory on what's gone before!

Thanks Ray.

Author:  wheelchairprincess [ 09 Dec 2006, 15:47 ]
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I was very surprised by Joey's reaction there but thinking about it it does make sense. And somehow I feel very sorry for Mike now but also pleased that he has Francie.

Author:  Kathy_S [ 09 Dec 2006, 16:07 ]
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Very fine as usual. :D

*giggling at the back-story on Herr Laubach's explosion*
I do like that idea!

Author:  Fatima [ 09 Dec 2006, 16:50 ]
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It's lovely to see this back again, thanks Ray.

Author:  Elder in Ontario [ 09 Dec 2006, 17:34 ]
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So far as I recall, the only times Mike had the attention of anyone in his family was if he was in trouble for something - an event which happened only too often! Even though his parents *did* recognise the age gap problems which left him rather a lonely filling in the sandwich between Charles and Felix and Felicity, they didn't seem to know how to give him enough 'positive' attention, so he was constantly in scrapes.

This 'adoption' of Francie, because she is freely giving him the 'right kind' of attention, is really helping his self-confidence, as well as helping Francie herself to feel more at home with the entire clan.

I, too, loved Joey's attitude towards Francie's developing relationship with Eric -she really showed a depth of understanding there.

Thanks Ray, I have really enjoyed re-reading this and am looking forward to the new parts to come.

Author:  LizB [ 09 Dec 2006, 18:15 ]
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Joey is lovely, Mike is lovely, Francie is lovely, Eric is lovely ...

Thanks, Ray :D

Author:  Ray [ 09 Dec 2006, 21:12 ]
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And, as promised, here's the second part for today :)

Thank you very much for your patience :)

Chapter 9

Francie found herself being led up to the top of the house and to one of the attics. This one had clearly been turned over to all manner of arts and crafts, to judge by the contents. Francie wondered just what Mike was up to.

"I want to make something for Len, Con and Margot," he announced as he shut the door. "But it has to be a secret. It's for Christmas."

Francie nodded. "OK."


"I promise." Francie paused. "So what do you want to make?" she asked.

"I thought…" Mike hesitated. "I thought I could make them a candle each. Like the ones you did."

Francie nodded. "Good idea."

From the top drawer of a very battered desk standing in the corner of the room, Mike produced three candles, all of which looked decidedly sticky. Francie was at once reminded of his remarks about glue and wax and bit her lip in an effort not to laugh.

"I tried gluing them," he explained. "But it didn't work."

"No-o," Francie agreed.

"What do we do first?"

Swiftly, Francie considered the matter. "I think," she finally said, "the first thing is that you go and ask Anna for an old rag and we'll see if we can't clean the glue up. Wait!" she added as Mike was all for departing in a hurry. "One question: Do you want ribbon to go around the base of the candles?" Mike nodded vigorously. "What colour?"

Mike thought about it for a few moments. "Con's should be yellow," he decided. "Len's should be green an' Margot's red." Then he tipped his head on one side. "Do you have ribbon of those colours?"

"I think so," Francie replied. "I'll look. And I'll go and get my pins, too. You do have the box of sequins, don't you?"

"Oh yes," said Mike nodding vigorously again.

"All right, then. You run and find a rag; mind it is a rag, though – I don't want either of us to be in trouble for wiping gluey candles on something precious."

"I will!" Mike promised as he dashed off.

Francie shook her head and headed down to her own room for the required pins and ribbon. To her annoyance, she had ribbon of several colours in her workbasket, but none of them were red and the one piece of yellow ribbon looked as if it had seen considerably better days.

"Drat," she muttered.

"Problems?" enquired a voice from the doorway.

Looking round, Francie saw Joey standing there, Phil balanced on her hip. "Mike's project," she said. "I haven't got the ribbon colours he wants."

"I may be able to help you there," Joey replied. "What colours?"

"Yellow and red," came the answer. "I have green."

"All right." Joey smiled. "Let me see to this young ladies wants and I'll bring it up to you. I think I have just the thing you want, as long as you don't mind hemming it."

Francie grimaced. "I hate hemming. Oh, I can do it all right, but all the same!"

Joey chuckled. "I understand. I won't be too shakes of a lamb's tail. Will I?" she added to Phil who gurgled something incoherent and grinned.

"Thanks." Francie smiled.

Joey answered with a grin and departed, carrying Phil off towards the night nursery. Francie headed back up to the attic. There she found Mike hard at work, cleaning the glue from the candles.

"Did you have the ribbon?" he asked, looking up from his labours.

"I only had green," Francie admitted. Mike's face fell. "But, your mother has something of the right sort; she's going to find it now."

Mike sighed in relief.

For a few minutes, they worked in silence, Francie hemming the strip of green velvet and Mike rubbing the glue off the candles. Then he said,

"What design should I do?"

Francie debated for a moment, deciding what advice she should give. "I think," she finally said, "that it should be something that you come up with."

"But like what?"

Francie paused in her hemming. "Well, if I were to do one for my step mother, I would probably do a flower, or series of flowers, because that's her hobby – she grows all kinds of flowers."

That obviously spurred an idea or two for Mike because he suddenly grinned. "Ooh. I know," he said. Then he frowned. "I'm not sure how to work it out, though."

"Get a piece of paper," Francie advised. "Cut it so that it just wraps around the candle with no gaps or overlap and so that it's the height you want to make your design – don't forget, you'll have an inch of ribbon on the candle's base." Mike nodded. "Then you can draw your design out on the paper and try placing the sequins. You might need a few tries to get something that works and that's better than turning the candles into a pin cushion!"

Mike giggled at the thought and collected paper and scissors from the battered desk. He began to do as Francie had suggested, and once she was sure he didn't need any further help, she returned to hemming the velvet, and there was another few minutes of peace.

It was onto this scene that Joey entered. "How's it going?" she enquired.

Francie watched as Mike looked down at his piece of paper and then up at his mother. "All right, I think," he said cautiously.

"Well this should help," said Joey and produced a strip of amber coloured velvet and another of a rich scarlet colour. "Will those do?"

"They're perfect!" Mike exclaimed. Then he hesitated. "Aren't they?"

Trying not to smile at his deferring to her, Francie nodded. "They certainly are."

"I've also brought matching cotton," Joey added. She handed over the two strips fabric and the matching reels of cotton. "And don't forget that you're to be in the Saal by six o'clock."

"We won't," Francie promised. "I'll keep an eye on the time."

Joey was satisfied with that and departed once more.

"How long do we have?" Mike asked as Francie finished hemming the green velvet and started on the scarlet.

She glanced at her watch. "We've got an hour."

Mike pulled a face. "That's not long enough."

"It'll be OK," Francie promised. "Have you got your design finished?" At Mike's nod, she said, "Well, have a go at placing the sequins for the first one." Mike nodded again and set to work. Francie watched him for a few moments then returned to her own work.

They worked quietly for several minutes, then, as Francie finished hemming the scarlet velvet, Mike said, "I think I'm ready."

Francie looked up. Spread over the piece of paper were vivid blue sequins arranged to show a bird winging its way across the page. "That looks beautiful," she said and Mike beamed with pride. "Here are the pins. Have a go at pinning the design." She held out the pin box.

Mike accepted and bent to his task while Francie began hemming the last strip of ribbon. Once that was done, she took up one of the candles Mike wasn't working on and used it to measure how big the loops of ribbon needed to be, then made them up.

"How're you doing?" she asked as she finished the last loop off.

"I've nearly done Con's, and Len's is done as well," Mike answered, waving his hand at the blue bird. Francie was surprised by just how effective the design had proved to be. "How much longer do we have?"

Francie consulted her watch. "We have another fifteen minutes, then we should wash up and go down to the Saal."

Mike looked worried. "Is that enough time?" he wondered.

"Yes," Francie answered. "If you get on now."

Mike nodded his head vigorously and once more set to work. As he finished Con's candle, Francie slipped the ribbon loop over the base of Len's. The green of the ribbon made a nice contrast to the vivid blue of the sequins. Con's bird was picked out in pearly white and silver, while the small pile of purple sequins heaped on the table told her that Margot's would be a rich magenta colour. All three would look stunning.

As Mike moved on to mark out Margot's design, there was a knock on the door and Stephen poked his head into the room. "Ma says to remind you you've only got ten minutes left," he announced. Then his eyes fell on the two completed candles. "I say; those are rather nifty, Mike."

At praise from his eldest brother, Mike's proud beam could get no brighter. "Thanks." Then he frowned. "You won't tell Len, Con and Margot will you?"

Stephen looked affronted. "What do you take me for, you goop? Of course I shan't. They'll love them, though." And with that, Stephen withdrew again.

"Work quickly," Francie insisted. "I'll start clearing up."

Thus adjured, Mike did as he was told. Francie tidied up the scraps of ribbon that were left over and the assorted threads and her needle, making a note to return the amber and scarlet cottons to Joey at a convenient moment, and made sure that the room was set to rights. She then checked her watch and saw that it was five to six.

"All right," she said. "You're going to have to stop now; we both need to wash our hands."

Mike gave the half finished design a concerned look. "What about finishing this?" he asked.

"There'll be time in the morning," Francie answered. "It won't take you long. You can always come up here before breakfast."

Mike brightened. "Can I?"

Francie grinned. "You certainly can. Now, come on; let's go and get cleaned up and find out what your mother has planned for this evening."

Francie superintended Mike's hand washing, making sure that he scrubbed his nails into the bargain, then sent him on down to the Saal before taking care of her own toilette. So it was that just as the grandfather clock in the hall chimed six, Francie reached the Saal.

Author:  Vikki [ 09 Dec 2006, 22:38 ]
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Thanks Ray!!
That was really lovely. And the bond that's growing between Mike and Francie is just fantastic!

Author:  Lesley [ 09 Dec 2006, 23:35 ]
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Francie's so lovely with Mike - and Mike himself is showing some excellent qualities - not only that he wanted to make presents for his sisters - but that he had good ideas on the design.

Thanks Ray.

Author:  wheelchairprincess [ 10 Dec 2006, 00:30 ]
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I really really love Francie in this. And Joey. And Mike.

Author:  francesn [ 10 Dec 2006, 00:34 ]
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Awwww Francie's so lovely to Mike.

Thanks Ray. I can't wait to find out more about Eric.

Author:  Tara [ 10 Dec 2006, 01:19 ]
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What a uniformly pleasant and wise set of characters - a nice change!

Author:  LizB [ 10 Dec 2006, 11:14 ]
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What's going to happen next?

Thanks, Ray :D

Author:  Ray [ 10 Dec 2006, 19:00 ]
Post subject: 

Well, here is the next installment - which is both the last of the repost AND the start of the new stuff. Believe it or not, I had the last section of this part all ready to post when the board got hacked...

I hope you like it :) More tomorrow

:oops: :oops: :oops: And for anyone who's just checked and gone "Hey, where's the update" it is.


(I probably shouldn't be let loose when on migrane meds...)

Chapter 10

Francie entered the Saal and discovered, somewhat to her embarrassment, she was the last to arrive. Joey was seated at the piano. Beside her, on one of the sofas, was Jack, together with Cecil, Felix and Felicity. Sprawled on the hearthrug were Stephen, Charles, Roddy and Mike, with Roger perched on an ottoman nearby, in case of trouble. Reg and Len were sharing a loveseat while Margot, Con and Ruey were seated on the other sofa. Anna, with Phil on her lap had one armchair. Rösli, with Geoff on her lap had the other. The final occupant of the room, Eric, was seated on the other loveseat with an empty place beside him.

For a second, Francie was tempted to try and squeeze onto the sofa with Margot, Con and Ruey. 'But I shall have to face him sooner or later,' she decided. 'Besides, if I do try for the sofa everyone will want to know why.' So she made her way to the empty seat and sat down. From the corner of her eye, she saw Joey give just a fractional nod, then she saw Eric smiling in both nervous welcome and apology.

There was no further chance for reflection for as she sat down, Joey said, "Since it's snowing fit to burst, we can't go to midnight mass, so instead, we're going to have our own service here. Our first carol is Away in a Manger."

And so began the most intimate Christmas service that Francie had ever attended. There were readings and carols, and everyone was included in some way. Joey played the accompaniment for a varied selection carols, including all the old favourites, which even Eric seemed to know the words to. A surprisingly shy Margot was induced to sing the first verse of Once In Royal David's City, while Joey herself sang the original German words to Silent Night. Reg supplied one reading, as he told the story of Boxer, a kitten who had been rescued by the local vet in his home village in Yorkshire on Christmas day. A suspiciously pink and conspicuous Roger added a description of the Christmas truce during the Great War as a second reading. Then, to bring proceedings to a close, Jack told the tale of the first Noel.

They ended with a rousing rendition of Adeste Fideles and then Joey swept the whole party into the Speisesaal for a late supper of soup, cooked meats and warm, crusty rolls, followed by baked apples in a cinnamon sauce. It was all rounded out with coffee, and then, with a firm command, everyone under the age of sixteen was dispatched to bed.

The rest of the party returned to the Saal, where there was mulled wine on offer. "Even for you five," said Joey with a smile as Francie joined the triplets and Ruey to ask, "but only one glass. Anna's made fruit cordial as well."

As Francie sipped her glass of mulled wine she decided that this, too, was a departure from her 'normal' Christmas. At home, Mimsie and Robert tended to still look on her as a little girl not much beyond the eleven year old they'd first sent to the Chalet School, whereas Joey and Jack both seemed prepared to treat her as someone who was almost an adult – and not only her but the triplets and Ruey. Vaguely, she wondered how next Christmas would compare!

Taking a seat on the nearest of the loveseats, Francie glanced around the room. Reg, Len, Roger, Con, Margot and Ruey had all formed a conversational clump; from the sounds of it, they were teasing Roger about his earlier blushes. Beside the Christmas tree, Joey, Anna and Jack had formed another group. From the wistful expression on Anna's face, Francie guessed they were talking about long ago Christmases. Rösli, who had just returned from (Francie suspected) seeing Roddy, Mike and the babes into bed, went to join them.

Francie supposed she ought to join one or other group, but at that moment there was a polite cough from somewhere just in front of her.

"May I?"

She looked up and saw Eric standing in front of her. He was gesturing to the other seat on the loveseat. She smiled. "Of course."

Eric smiled nervously in response and sat gingerly beside her. "I wanted to say," he began, "you were right."

Francie took a sip of wine and arched an eyebrow. "About?" she prompted.

Eric's smile turned a little sheepish. "Well two things, I guess. First was your description of Christmas in these parts."

"That wasn't mine," Francie pointed out. "Len and Con described it to me."

"And second," he continued, ignoring her comment, "you were right about speaking to Jack." He looked down at the wineglass in his hand.

Francie waited to see if Eric would say anything further and when it looked as if he wouldn't, she said, "I'm glad I could help."

Eric looked up again, another nervous smile on his face. "Maybe, someday, I'll know the words to explain it all to you."

"I can wait."

There was another long pause. Francie sensed that Eric was trying to find the words to tell her something and she wondered what it was. A horrible thought crossed her mind: He wasn't proposing to leave after Christmas, was he?

"Actually," Eric said suddenly, "speaking to Jack helped in more than one way?"


"Since I'm out of hospital and healed and sh…stuff, I ought to go home. 'Cept I don't know where home is."

Francie nodded slowly, bemused. Did this mean he was staying? Or was he trying to let her down lightly?

"This is pretty much the only place I know right now," Eric continued. "And, I figure, it's the one place anyone who is looking for me is gonna look." He snorted softly. "If they know I'm here."

"They must do," said Francie. "Surely someone must?"

Eric shrugged carefully, making sure not to slop the remnants of his mulled wine over the floor. "I've been here three months or there abouts. No-one's come forward, looking for me. Either no-one's noticed I'm missing or no-one knows to look here. I don't know which."

Francie nodded. "I see." She hesitated. "Then, does it matter if you stay here or not?"

"I guess not," Eric admitted. He sighed. "If you don't want me to stay, I won't. As soon as Christmas is over I---"

"Who said I didn't want you to stay?" Francie asked blankly.

"Do you?" Eric asked.

"Do I what?"

"Want me to stay?"

Faced with a bald question, Francie was brought up short, not so much because she didn't have an answer but because she hadn't expected to be given the choice. "Of course I'd like you to stay, but---"

"Then I'm staying," said Eric.

"Just like that?" Francie blinked.

Eric shrugged again. "I don't have anywhere else I have to be; I don't know anyone anywhere else right now. Staying here makes sense, but only if I'm welcome."

Francie stared at him. "Why ever wouldn't you be welcome?"

He looked down, studying his wineglass. "I made a first class ass of myself this afternoon."

"If that's what you think, then you can think again," Francie retorted with as much assurance as she could muster. "You're still my friend, this afternoon didn't change that. And if---" she swallowed, her assurance finally deserting her. "If that becomes something else, later, well it does."

Eric looked up shyly. "If that's what you want."

"It is," Francie replied.

There was more to be said, but at that moment, the grandfather clock in the hall solemnly chimed for midnight and above the babble of conversation, Joey's golden voice rang out with, "Merry Christmas to you all."

Back came the responses from everyone in the room in a disorderly chorus of seasonal goodwill, making Francie smile. This really did seem to be how Christmas should be celebrated, somehow.

"And now," Joey continued, "bed I think. Knowing the little ones, we'll all be up early!"

"Certainly knowing Mike," muttered Margot. "Last year, he dragged me out of bed at five o'clock to see what he'd got."

That provoked a couple of chuckles from Ruey, Len and Con.

"All the more reason to go to bed now," said Joey serenely. "Though do, I implore you, go quietly! They may all be early birds, but there's no sense in them being quite this early!"

That provoked a few more laughs and the party began breaking up. Francie made her way up the stairs in Eric's company, drawing a suspecting look from Len and a knowing one from Joey.

"See you in the morning, then," said Eric softly as they reached his bedroom door.

"Definitely," Francie replied, equally softly. "And Merry Christmas."

Author:  Lottie [ 10 Dec 2006, 19:02 ]
Post subject: 

Ray wrote:
Well, here is the next installment - which is both the last of the repost AND the start of the new stuff. Believe it or not, I had the last section of this part all ready to post when the board got hacked...

I hope you like it :) More tomorrow

I was hoping for a little more than that, Ray! :shock: I have really enjoyed the rest. :D Thanks.

ETA This part is lovely, too, now it's here! Thanks Ray.

Author:  Lesley [ 10 Dec 2006, 19:11 ]
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Awwwww, that was lovely.

Thanks Ray.

(And I've just remembered a conversation I had with Ray some time ago about Eric's identity. :lol:)

Author:  LizB [ 10 Dec 2006, 19:35 ]
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Lesley wrote:
(And I've just remembered a conversation I had with Ray some time ago about Eric's identity. :lol:)

I believe I was either present or have had a similar conversation!

Thanks, Ray, that was a wonderful Christmas Eve :D

Author:  Ray [ 10 Dec 2006, 19:53 ]
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LizB wrote:
Lesley wrote:
(And I've just remembered a conversation I had with Ray some time ago about Eric's identity. :lol:)

I believe I was either present or have had a similar conversation!

Thanks, Ray, that was a wonderful Christmas Eve :D

I think we may have been sitting under Kathye's trellis work at the time, just prior to being joined by a wet Squeenie...

Ray *:)*

Author:  LizB [ 10 Dec 2006, 19:58 ]
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Gah! I thought that was going to be MORE! :lol:

Author:  wheelchairprincess [ 10 Dec 2006, 21:28 ]
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So when do the rest of us get to know about Eric's identity?

Author:  Cath V-P [ 11 Dec 2006, 02:59 ]
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Catching up with this has been lovely. Thank you Ray.

Author:  Josie [ 11 Dec 2006, 05:04 ]
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Thanks Ray. Great to see this back. I do love your Maynard family, not to mention your Francie. :D

Author:  Fatima [ 11 Dec 2006, 05:29 ]
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That was wonderful, thanks Ray. I'm really liking Francie here, too.

Author:  Ray [ 11 Dec 2006, 22:21 ]
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Sorry Liz!

The big reveal on Eric's probably a little while off just yet. Sorry :wink: But I have promised more of his story soon, and that should come up later this week :)

In the's today's installment :)

And thank you :)

It was the sound of running feet that woke Francie the following morning. For a moment, she wondered what was going on. Then she caught a few excited words from Felix and a few more from Felicity. Looking at her watch, which she'd forgotten to take off the night before, she discovered it was just after six o'clock in the morning. 'So this is what Christmas morning is like in a big family,' she mused, rolling onto her back.

"Keep it down, or you'll have Mama on top of us." Stephen's warning floated up to Francie. She grinned to herself. Why was it the people who warned you to be quiet were always louder than the people making the original noise?

She was just debating whether or not to try and go back to sleep when there was a gentle knock on the door.

"Francie?" Con called.

"I'm awake," Francie answered.

In response, the door opened and Con stuck her head into the room. "Happy Christmas," she began, grinning. "Mama and Anna are making coffee; do you want some? Brekka won't be until eight o'clock." She paused. "Unless you want to go back to sleep, of course!"

Francie grinned in response. "Am I likely to be able to go back to sleep?" she asked.

Con tipped her head on one side and considered the question for a moment, then shook her head. "No; 'fraid not."

"Then I'll have coffee," Francie answered.

Con nodded and shot off, leaving Francie to wriggle out of bed. Reaching for her dressing gown, however, she got a shock. Lying on top of her dressing gown was a stocking stuffed full of intriguing looking packages. 'Oh!' Francie blushed. She hadn't liked to put a stocking out, being a guest rather than a permanent member of the family, but obviously someone had done it for her.

She was still staring at the stocking in mixed amazement and shy delight at the stocking when there was another knock on the door. A moment later and Len appeared, balancing a tray carefully as she opened the door.

"Happy Christmas," she said.

Francie smiled. "Happy Christmas." A thought occurred to her. "Am I going to end up saying that eleven or twelve times today?"

Len gurgled with laughter as she set the tray down on the desk. "Goodness, I've never thought about it before." She poured coffee into the two cups. "Maybe."

Francie chuckled. "I see." She glanced at the stuffed stocking.

"Mama asked me to find one for you," Len admitted. "She guessed that you might not feel you could." She handed over one of the cups of coffee. "Reg is up, by the by. He says if you want to get up, that's fine; he can do the massage later."

"That's very kind of him," Francie replied. "I don't---"

"Want to be a nuisance?" finished Len with a grin. "You're not being," she said firmly. "Get that out of your mind. Your step-mother asked Mama to look after you and that makes you a part of the family." Len's eyes sparkled with mischief. "I know Mike things the absolute world of you, too."

Joey had said much the same thing during the hike up to Wetterdorf, two days earlier, and it made Francie feel a little unnerved. "Is that a good thing?" she wondered.

Len goggled at her for a moment. "Why on earth shouldn't it be?"

Francie shrugged a little. "I'm not so very sure of what to do."

Len grinned. "Just keep doing what you have been doing." She took a long sip of coffee, and then added, "The snow's stopped, by the way, which should mean church later."

"Which service will I go to?" Francie wondered, grateful for the subject change.

"Not an earthly clue," said Len, "but I expect Mama will know. Roger, Ruey and Roddy will be going to the Anglican service, so if you go to that one, you shan't be on your own."

Francie nodded and sipped her coffee. She idly wondered which, if any, of the services Eric would attend.

"I do know," Len continued, "that Mama has arranged a sled for you to travel on. Reg's orders."

"Am I that badly hurt?" Francie queried, blushing.

"No, only we'll be going to church by skis," said Len. "And I don't imagine your arm's up to that, yet."


Sparing either of them from further conversation, there was a knock on the door and a moment later, two hears appeared. One, tousled and tow-headed, belonged to Mike; the other, rather neater and darker, belonged to Reg.

"Happy Christmas," they both chorused, prompting giggles from both Len and Francie as they responded in kind.

Reg, at least, gave them both a faintly puzzled look. "I presume," he said, "that you want to get up, Francie?"

"Please?" added Mike, at which Len promptly retreated into her cup of coffee.

Francie rolled her eyes at her friend's behaviour and the smiled at Reg and Mike. "Well I can't see I'm going to get any more sleep."

"That's the problem of being in a house full of early risers," said Reg sagely. "Is half an hour long enough for you to get dressed before I give you today's course of massage?"

"I should thing so," Francie answered.

"All right then." To Mike, Reg said, "That means, young man, you'll have her undivided attention from a quarter past seven. All right?"

Mike heaved a gusty sigh and nodded. "All right." Then he offered a beaming smile. "See you later." And he disappeared.

"And I should take the tray downstairs," said Len, her face red from her efforts in not laughing.

"Good scheme," Reg approved. "We'll see you later, Francie," he added, holding the door open a little wider so that Len could exit with the tray.

A couple of moments later and Francie was once more alone in her room. She started to stand up, but then her eye caught the interesting shaped bulges in her stocking. She paused, hesitating. She ought to get up and get dressed and generally prepare for the day ahead – to say nothing of being ready for Reg's return! On the other hand, that stocking was intriguing. She hadn't had a proper stocking, like this, since she'd been a little girl; she herself had deemed herself too old for such things at the ripe old age of eleven and had more or less scorned many of Mimsie's efforts to make Christmas fun during her early teens.

Not for the first time, Francie wondered just what sort of an idiot she'd actually been.

Then she shook her head. Today was the one day of the year when she wasn't going to dwell on that. And she wasn't going to repeat her mistakes, either.

With a smile, Francie sat back down on the bed and picked up the stocking.

She had a feeling this was going to be fun.

Author:  LizB [ 11 Dec 2006, 22:47 ]
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Lovely start to Christmas Day :D

Thanks, Ray

Author:  Lesley [ 12 Dec 2006, 00:20 ]
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Francie - we've all been there - thought ourselves too old for something. Now you've truly grown up.

Thanks Ray

Author:  Kathy_S [ 12 Dec 2006, 01:03 ]
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Wonderful start to the morning. :D

Author:  wheelchairprincess [ 12 Dec 2006, 01:03 ]
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Now this sounds just like how Christmas Day *should* be

Author:  Fatima [ 12 Dec 2006, 06:04 ]
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That was a brilliant start to the day for Francie - and somehow I have a feeling that the rest of the day will be just as good!

Author:  Mrs Redboots [ 12 Dec 2006, 12:16 ]
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Have I yet said how delighted I am to see this back - it really is one of my favourites.

Thanks, Ray.

Author:  Ray [ 12 Dec 2006, 22:47 ]
Post subject: 

Thank you again; I'm glad you're all enjoying this.

Here is today's installment :)

Chapter 12

The first thing Francie pulled from the stocking was an orange, which she carefully set down on the nightstand. The next thing, however, was a long, slender parcel wrapped in gaily patterned paper. Curious, she slit the paper and discovered a brand new pair of knitting needles. That made her grin; her last pair had come to a sticky end while her arm had been in plaster!

Setting them aside, she removed the next item. This proved to be a squarish package, also gaily wrapped. This one was soft and squashy and she guessed, marginally before she finally succeeded in opening the paper, that it was a new set of handkerchiefs.

Putting them down next to the knitting needles, Francie reached for the fourth item. It was a third wrapped parcel, more solid and heavy than anything else so far, except the orange. Unwrapping it, she discovered a small wooden box. Painted on the lid was a bouquet of edelweiss, which suggested that it was a locally made item, but on opening it, Francie received a surprise.

Nestling in the centre, on a bed of black crushed velvet was a cameo brooch.

Behind it, stark against the velvet, was the corner of something white. Lifting the brooch, Francie discovered a folded piece of paper with her name written on it in Mimsie's handwriting. She rescued it and put the brooch back into the box then, putting the box down beside the other presents, she unfolded the note and read:

Dear Francie,
This is a very special gift for you, and I have asked Mrs Maynard if you could receive this privately. I wish that I could be there, when you open it, but as we both know, it hasn't quite worked as we might have planned.
The brooch belonged to your mother. When she died, it was one of the three pieces of your mother's jewellery that your father kept, for you. When he died, he left them to you in his will, with the instructions that you should have them when I thought you were ready. I talked it over with Robert, and we decided that the brooch should be your eighteenth birthday present, but, since that would happen in term time, not so long after Christmas, we decided that you should have it now.
So here it is. From the story that Grannie Wilford told me, the brooch was bought for your mother, by your grandfather for her twenty-first birthday, and there wasn't a day that would go by when she didn't wear it, right up to the day that she died. It was for that reason that your father chose it over her necklaces and bracelets; so that you would have something that your mother had a real connection to.
The other items he kept were her wedding and engagement rings, but as they are both quite valuable, they are perhaps not something for you to have in school.
I hope that you have a lovely day today.
Merry Christmas!
Love, Mimsie.

Francie swallowed against sudden tears. It was strange; the brooch seemed like perhaps the most precious thing she'd ever been given. A piece of the mother that she'd never known.

She'd never asked Mimsie about her mother, either out of feigned indifference or a vague sense of tact. Maybe, when Mimsie and Robert returned from America she would finally ask.

She swallowed again and refolded the note. Tucking it back into the box, she debated for a moment, then took the brooch out once more and nodded. She would wear it. That seemed the right thing to do.

With that decided, she turned her attention back to the stocking, but there was little left in there, just a small parcel of chocolates and, in the toe of the stocking, a pink sugar mouse, which made her smile. She had the faintest of memories of being given something similar when she'd been a very, very little girl. The small boy next door had been given one too, and they'd spent hours playing with them. In and out of the big airing cupboard next to the fireplace, just as if they were real mice.

Francie chuckled. Alistair Walker had been his name. His mother had looked after her some of the time, when her father was away in his role as air raid warden.

She hadn't thought of that in years.

Setting the mouse and the chocolates down next to the rest of the gifts, she shook off the memories and finally stood up. It was time she got dressed. Reg would be returning soon and she didn't want to keep Mike waiting any longer than was necessary.

Author:  LizB [ 12 Dec 2006, 22:49 ]
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Oh, what a beautiful present from Mimsie and Robert.

Thanks, Ray :D

Author:  Lottie [ 12 Dec 2006, 23:02 ]
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That was a lovely stocking. Lucky Francie. And what a beautiful keepsake from her mother after all those years. Thanks, Ray.

Author:  Cath V-P [ 13 Dec 2006, 00:00 ]
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What a joyous start to the day - and such a lovely connection to her mother...

Author:  Lesley [ 13 Dec 2006, 00:52 ]
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Francie must feel ever so close to her mother and her step-mother now.

Thanks Ray.

Author:  Caty [ 13 Dec 2006, 02:43 ]
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A lovely way to get a special gift.

Author:  Kathy_S [ 13 Dec 2006, 03:39 ]
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Thank you, Ray.

Fabulous stocking, and I love the way the sugar mouse helps diffuse the shock of the brooch.

Author:  Nell [ 13 Dec 2006, 12:30 ]
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Lovely stocking and such a lovely gift from Mimsie.

Thank you Ray.

Author:  Jennie [ 13 Dec 2006, 16:44 ]
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That was lovely, thanks, Ray.

Author:  francesn [ 13 Dec 2006, 21:19 ]
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Ray, that actually made me cry.

Thank you.

Author:  patmac [ 13 Dec 2006, 22:22 ]
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I've just read it from the start and thoroughly enjoyed it the second time round.

I do like your Maynards!

Author:  Dawn [ 15 Dec 2006, 03:22 ]
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Really enjoying this Ray

Christmas is mad enough here with 3 kids - I can just imagine the noise levels with so many - but there's so much fun and laughter too

Author:  Ray [ 15 Dec 2006, 17:59 ]
Post subject: 

Thank you all; I'm sorry this has taken as long as it has - unfortunately, RL decided to intervene for a couple of days. But, with a little bit of luck, I should be able to catch up again...hopefully!

There may even be a second installment tonight!

Chapter 13

The rest of the morning flew by in a way no Christmas morning had ever flown so far as Francie was concerned. Once Reg had finished with her massage, she had headed up to the attic where Mike was already hard at work on Margot's candle. She helped him with that then, when that was finished, it was straight down to breakfast.

Breakfast was a loose, informal affair. The smaller children had theirs up in the nursery, under the watchful gaze of Rosli. For everyone else, it was a festive affair in the Speissesaal. There was eggs and kedgeree and porridge, with toast, crescent rolls or ordinary bread rolls to fill in the gaps complete with a choice of blackcurrant jam and thick-cut marmalade and to round it all off there was coffee, milk and, as a treat for the festive day, the option of hot chocolate too.

After the meal, there was a scramble to get ready for church and then it was off across the hard packed snow for the Christmas morning service. The only people absent from the church party were the second twins, who were judged too young to attend, Rosli, who stayed to look after them, and Eric, who had so far been oddly absent from the morning's festivities. Francie didn't have time to wonder at his absence, though, as the whole party were swept out of the house by Joey, Jack and Anna.

Once outside, everyone either strapped on skis or, in Francie's case, was inducted onto a large toboggan. Once she was settled, she found herself being joined by a very muffled and bundled up Cecil. To her right she could see a very nervous looking Reg, who was being shown how to fasten his skis by Len and an all too amused Con. To her left she could see Anna overseeing Mike and Roddy's preparations, while Joey, with Felix and Felicity with her, was already at Freudesheim's gate. Ahead of them, forming the vanguard of the party, were Margot and Ruey with Steve and Charles in tow.

"Ready?" enquired Jack as he picked up one of the toboggan's guide ropes.

"Yes, thank you," Francie answered.

"Then we'll be off," said Roger taking the other rope.

And so they were. Cecil whooped with delight as they sped across the snow, and Francie almost felt like joining in; it was a glorious feeling to be flying across the frozen crust of snow – it almost felt like flying.

All too soon, they arrived at the two Chalet School chapels and there the party split into two groups with the Maynard family and Anna attending the service at Our Lady of the Snows while Francie joined the three Richardsons and Reg at the St Mary's service.

For the first time in the holidays, Francie found something that was actually similar to what she was used to. The prayers and hymns and readings were all familiar to her from past Christmases. But it was different too; St Mary's attracted a far smaller congregation than St Bartholomew's ever did and that made the whole service feel a lot friendlier and a lot less remote.

"Reminds me of Christmas in Garnham," Reg observed as they left the church at the end of the service. "The only difference is I used to be in the church choir there."

Ruey regarded him curiously. "You were a choir boy?" she asked as they headed over to the waiting Maynard family.

"I can't say I was a terribly angelic one," Reg admitted. "I dropped earthworms down the back of Mary Platt's dress one Christmas!"

"Reg, you horror!" exclaimed Len.

Reg just grinned unrepentantly. "She'd have done the same to me."

"Well please," said Joey, "don't give Mike any ideas."

"Mike's in the school choir," Steve explained.

"Shan't say a word," Reg promised.

Jack, who'd been casting a weather eye at the sky, which was rapidly turning a sickly yellow/grey colour, said, "Better stop yattering and get your skis on. I don't like the looks of that cloud."

"It wouldn't dare to blizzard on us," said Margot.

"And I'd rather be spared the excitement just in case you're wrong," retorted her father.

And thus chivvied, the party hurriedly prepared for the return run. As it turned out, though, Margot had prophesied truly and the last member of the church party had been safely in Freudesheim for nearly a full minute before the first flakes of snow began to lazily descend.

"All right," said Joey as Anna rapidly departed for the kitchen. "Everyone change into something comfortable and then come down to the Saal."

Francie glanced to Len. "What's going to happen now?" she asked.

Len's eyes sparkled with mischief. "We're going to get changed."

Francie blinked, momentarily taken aback by the statement of the obvious. Then she grimaced at her friend as they both started to climb the stairs. "I didn't mean literally."

Len giggled. "I'm sorry; it was too good an opportunity to waste." Francie just poked her tongue out at the eldest triplet. "Besides, I'm not sure what mama has in mind. We'll find out when we get to the Saal." And she disappeared into her bedroom, leaving Francie torn between anticipation and frustration.

Author:  ali [ 15 Dec 2006, 19:31 ]
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I'm feeling so christmassy now, thank you. :D

Author:  Lesley [ 15 Dec 2006, 20:28 ]
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Thanks Ray.

Wonder why Eric is absent....

Author:  Vikki [ 15 Dec 2006, 22:35 ]
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Ray, these new posts are brilliant! Thank you!

Author:  Cath V-P [ 16 Dec 2006, 00:58 ]
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Ahh, that's lovely... Thank you!

Author:  Tara [ 16 Dec 2006, 01:37 ]
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Such fun - and I loved Len's response to Francie. But where, indeed, is Eric?

Author:  wheelchairprincess [ 16 Dec 2006, 14:07 ]
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Len's response to Francie was brilliant and I loved the way Francie felt like joining in when Cecil whooped on the toboggan. But where is Eric and just why do I have something of an ominous feeling about his absence?!

Author:  Kathy_S [ 16 Dec 2006, 14:45 ]
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Thank you, Ray. :D
I can't pick out favorite parts.

Author:  Kat [ 16 Dec 2006, 15:18 ]
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More, Ray, MORE!

Please? :lol:

Author:  Caty [ 17 Dec 2006, 02:05 ]
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Kathy_S wrote:
Thank you, Ray. :D
I can't pick out favorite parts.

Me either. It just all makes me feel warm & festive. Thank you Ray.

Author:  Jennie [ 17 Dec 2006, 15:07 ]
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Thanks, Ray.

Author:  Nell [ 18 Dec 2006, 13:04 ]
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Thanks Ray, lovely and Christmassy!

Author:  leahbelle [ 18 Dec 2006, 13:52 ]
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Thanks, Ray :D .

Author:  LizB [ 08 Jan 2007, 15:00 ]
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Bump! :wink:

*hoping we won't have to wait until next Christmas for more of this*

Author:  kimothy [ 08 Jan 2007, 18:54 ]
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*joins in the bumping*

Author:  Ray [ 04 Feb 2007, 19:27 ]
Post subject: Not *quite* what I had in mind, but, when writer's block strikes, it can really strike. The good news is, though, that I've finally solved all my block problems, I know exactly where I'm going and I *should* be able to wrap this story up in the next couple of weeks...
...and if I don't, you have my permission to come after me with sharp sticks!

Thank you for your patience :)

Chapter 14

After another glance at Len's now closed bedroom door, Francie hurried along to her own room and proceeded to swiftly change out of her best clothes and into something a little more comfortable. It was a task somewhat hampered by the fact that her arm was in a sling once more, but after four weeks of wearing a plaster cast, that was only a minor detail. As a final touch, she pinned her mother's cameo onto her cardigan. As she did so, she noticed that the clasp was a little loose. She frowned. 'I need to get that seen to, before something happens to it,' she decided. 'Mrs Maynard will know where I can go.'

After giving her hair a quick brush, Francie trotted back downstairs and entered the Saal. Seated on the same loveseat as the evening before was Eric. He smiled.

"Happy Christmas," he said.

Francie smiled in return. "And to you." She sat down beside him, eyeing him curiously. He looked a little less tired, she decided. Presumably whatever Jack had suggested had helped.

"Well? Do I pass your inspection?" Eric asked.

Francie blushed. "Sorry; I was just thinking you look less tired. Did you sleep better?"

Eric grinned sheepishly. "Very much better. That was why I missed church. I didn't wake up until just before you all came back."

Before Francie could think of a response to that admission, the three Richardsons and the eldest of the Maynard clan piled into the Saal. Roger was very carefully carrying a beautiful wooden model of a stable in his arms, while Len, Con and Margot were carrying an assortment of figures.

Francie watched as the quartet set up the basic nativity scene, and it occurred to her that the completion of the scene – as Len and Con had described it – would be one of the reasons for this gathering.

Over the next few minutes, the rest of the family arrived and the whole party took up seats. Last to arrive was Joey, who had the second twins and Cecil in tow.

"Is it present time?" Mike enquired.

Joey looked amused. "Not quite yet; you'll have to possess your soul in patience a little longer."

"Really Mike," Margot muttered with a roll of her eyes.

"I don't want to get them," Mike retorted, "I want to give some!"

That remarkable statement provoked an interesting selection of startled noises from his siblings and Mike looked mildly offended. Francie ducked her head and tried to stifle her giggles.

"Is there a reason Mike shouldn't want to give gifts?" Jack enquired.

Wisely, no-one responded.

Joey, meanwhile, led Cecil and the twins up to the nativity scene. To Cecil, she handed the figure of St Joseph, while Phil was given St Mary and Geoff, the family baby by some twenty minutes, was given the baby Jesus figure. With a little encouragement, all three placed their figures into the scene in the correct positions – though to Francie's eyes, it did look for a moment as if Geoff was considering something other than the manger for his charge!

Duties done, Geoff and Phil were handed over to a smiling Rösli, while Joey went to kneel beside the Christmas tree. Cecil joined her and, after a moment or two of hesitation, so did Felicity.

"Are you going to help too, Felix?" Joey asked.

Felix considered this for a moment, then shook his head. "I'm not a baby any more," he declared, provoking chuckles from his elder siblings.

"All right, then," said Joey. "Michael, I know that you're dying to begin?"

Belatedly, Francie realised that this was the beginning of the gift giving. It was never quite so formal when she was at home; on the other hand, she reflected, at home there were only ever three people to deal with. That was bound to make a difference.

Meanwhile, Mike had clambered to his feet, looking rather shy and self-conscious. From beneath the sofa, he produced a wide array of brown paper bags and began to hand them out. The largest went to Jack, while the smallest was given to Joey. To Stephen and Charles went an odd shaped parcel, while the Triplets were given three packages identical in size and shape. To round off, everyone else, including, to her surprise, Francie, was presented with a small, slim packet.

Those packets, Francie discovered, were small bars of chocolate, but Jack's share proved to be a pipe rack, while Joey's was a carved bear and that oddly shaped parcel was revealed to be nothing less than a model aeroplane.

"You made this?" Stephen asked.

"Reg helped me finish it," Mike owned.

"Ripper!" exclaimed Charles, sounding both impressed and more animated than Francie had ever seen him before. "Does it fly?"

"It should do---"

"You may test it later," said Joey firmly. "Triplets, what do you have?"

That directed Francie's curious gaze to the trio, who were all staring, somewhat shell-shocked. For an answer to Joey's question, they exhibited the candles, causing a chorus of 'ooohs' and 'aaahs' from the rest of the gathering and prompting Mike to blush vigorously.

"They're beautiful, Mike," Len murmured. "Thank you."

That prompted every one else to express their gratitude and Mike's face soon resembled a beetroot in colour. Out of mercy for him, Joey selected a pile of gifts from beneath the tree and held them out to Felicity, saying, "Could you give these to your father?" And the present giving began in earnest.

Felicity and Cecil acted as Joey's helpers, handing out the parcels to their owners and soon the Saal was awash with scraps of gaily-coloured paper and ribbon.

Francie soon found herself in possession of a couple of new books, a brand new pin cushion (from Ruey, who had heard Francie bemoaning the death of her old one shortly before half term), a new set of water colours (from Mimsie) and a small heap of chocolate from sundry other people.

Margot, too, looked as if she'd been given the lion's share of a sweet shop. In addition to the box of truffles Francie had given her, the youngest triplet had been given no fewer than three tins of toffee and a large slab of chocolate.

"If you eat all that," said Con dispassionately, "you'll be sick."

Ruey, who'd been trying out her new pen, looked up. "You certainly will be," she agreed. "To say nothing of being in urgent need of the dentist!"

Margot chuckled. "Oh, I shall share the riches, believe me!" She paused. "New pen?" Ruey nodded and a teasing light entered Margot's eyes. "You'll have no excuses about your handwriting now!"

The only response to that was a well-aimed cushion and gales of giggles from Len and Con.

At that moment, there came a whoop from Stephen, who'd been given the boys' joint present to open. Seconds later and Mike, Charles, Felix and Roddy were joining in as they all saw the Meccano set they'd been given. An immediate discussion was begun as to what they'd build first, which amused Francie.

"Ooh, how perfect!" exclaimed Con, dragging Francie's attention back to the triplets and Ruey. In Con's hands was the notebook Francie had bought for her. "It's exactly what I wanted for my new poem. Thank you, Francie."

Francie smiled.

A girlish squeal took her attention over to Felicity, who had just unwrapped the new furniture for Maison des Poupees. Cecil beamed brightly and admired the items while Felicity began to plan where they should put it all.

"Oh!" Len's soft exclamation once more drew Francie's gaze back to the triplets. The eldest was now admiring the vase Francie had given her. "You're sneakier than you look," she said.

Francie grinned. "It's being a wild and wicked middle that does it," she joked.

Len giggled. "Thank you. It's beautiful."

"Please?" said Felicity shyly. "Mama says these are for you."

For a moment, Francie thought Felicity was talking to her, but then she recognised the parcel at the top of the heap and, instead, gently nudged Eric, who was clearly wool gathering. He blinked, then blinked again as Felicity thrust the heap of parcels at him.

"For me?"

Felicity nodded. "Happy Christmas!"

Given little other choice, Eric took the pile from the small girl and smiled. "Thank you."

For a moment, he looked a little nonplussed by the trio of presents he'd been given. Two of them were bulky, while the third was much smaller and more compact. Francie recognised that he probably hadn't been expecting anything and, consequently, wasn't entirely sure of what to do. Then pragmatism set in and, with shaking hands, he opened the first of the bulky parcels and drew out two pairs of trousers. The second big parcel proved to contain two shirts and a pullover. All the items looked, to Francie, as if they were the correct size for Eric. It mightn't have been a traditional present, but Francie couldn't imagine a more useful one just now.

"How did she know?" Eric wondered.

Felicity, whose duties were clearly finished and who had been watching the procedure curiously, now smiled. "Mama knows everything. I think she's a witch. A good one, just like Glinda." And with that, she skipped off, leaving Eric lost for words.

Francie chuckled and turned her attention to her final parcel. This one was small and square, no more than an inch across and less than a quarter of that deep, which made her curious. The label on it told her it was from Eric, which just added to her curiosity.

Carefully, she slit the paper. The object turned out to be a small picture frame. Flipping it over, Francie discovered it was housing a pen-and-ink sketch of a coastal landscape. Rocky cliffs rose from the right hand side of the picture, while the left hand side dropped away sharply to the sea, which was breaking over some wicked looking rocks.

"You like it?" Eric asked.

"It's beautiful," Francie replied. "Did you---" But she stopped as she spotted the tiny 'EM' in the corner. "I didn't know you drew."

Eric grinned sheepishly. "Nor did I. The nurses at the San gave me some paper and a pen – when I was well enough to sit up – and just started doodling."

"This is more than a doodle," Francie objected.

Eric ducked his head and blushed. "Well, true. It's a fragment of one of my dreams."

Hesitantly, Francie asked, "Do you know where it is?"

The answering shake of the head and the deep sigh told the tale. "I feel like I should know it – like I've been there so many times – but all it is is a picture in my mind. No names."

"It'll come back."

"And these will help." Eric gestured to the now unwrapped notebook and pen. "I can use these to keep track of the scraps. Thank you."

Francie blushed and smiled, but sparing her from having to actually reply came the rich, deep tone of the gong being rung.

Author:  dorian [ 04 Feb 2007, 19:48 ]
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Woohoo! I love this story, and have been waiting terribly impatiently for more of it. This was well worth the wait. I can't decide whether I'm gooier over the success of Mike's candles or Eric's sketch.

Thank you!

Author:  Fiona Mc [ 04 Feb 2007, 21:14 ]
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Am really really glad your over your writers block as I really love this story. Thanks. Hope we find out about Eric soon

Author:  Lesley [ 04 Feb 2007, 21:15 ]
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Yippee! Glad you got over your block, Ray - nothing worse. So pleased for Mike - I get the impression that he's never before been able togive gifrs like that - so pleased Francie was there to help him.

And Eric??? Lovely of Joey to anticipate his need - and he's an artist too? Hmmm.

Thanks Ray.

Author:  wheelchairprincess [ 04 Feb 2007, 22:59 ]
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Lovely to see an update. And even more lovely to read about all the joy, particularly Mike's in giving his gifts to his family. Jack's aside at the point was just right too.

Author:  patmac [ 04 Feb 2007, 23:09 ]
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Sighs with pleasure. Each in a different way, Francie, Eric and Mike all became more 'included'.

Thank you Ray. Glad the writer's block got shifted out of the way.

Author:  Tara [ 05 Feb 2007, 00:39 ]
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Lovely to have this back, and what a delightful present-giving session. It does feel like giving, not receiving, everyone getting something that's just right, and everyone being included in the love.
Nice to see Mike's candles being such a success.

Author:  Cath V-P [ 05 Feb 2007, 00:52 ]
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That was a lovely happy scene, and so all-inclusive.

Good to hear that you're over the block.

Author:  LizB [ 05 Feb 2007, 09:54 ]
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Yay! It's back!

That was lovely - this is a wonderful Christmas!

Thanks, Ray :D

Author:  Ruth B [ 05 Feb 2007, 11:19 ]
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Ray wrote:
"Mama knows everything. I think she's a witch.

:lol: :lol:

Glad your writers block has gone Ray. I do love your Mike.

Author:  Mrs Redboots [ 05 Feb 2007, 12:41 ]
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Thank you, Ray - I had been missing this, and am so very glad it's back.

How I remember being Mike's age, with presents to give out, and longing and longing to see people's faces - even though they usually only managed polite smiles for the cake of Pears Soap or whatever my pocket money had stretched to.

I'm glad his candles were a success - and the aeroplane for Charles. Let's hope Joey and Jack recognise the talent in Mike's neat fingers (how I longed to have neat fingers at his age!) and encourage it.

Author:  Fatima [ 05 Feb 2007, 15:55 ]
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I'm so glad to see more of this! And I think Eric's gift was lovely. Thanks Ray.

Author:  Vikki [ 05 Feb 2007, 17:02 ]
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That was fantastic Ray! Well worth the wait.(although that doesn't mean I'm happy to wait as long for the next bit... :wink: )

Author:  brie [ 05 Feb 2007, 18:43 ]
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thanks ray! SO glad this is back

Author:  Ruth M [ 05 Feb 2007, 19:19 ]
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I have been loving this! Sooo pleased it's back!

Author:  claireM [ 07 Feb 2007, 21:32 ]
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Really glad this is back, I can't believe its taken me two days to notice. :roll:

Author:  Dawn [ 11 Feb 2007, 19:24 ]
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Having nagged you lots about this - I've only just managed to read it :oops:

but it was an utterly fabulous update and I really really enjoyed it - thankyou Ray

especially the Mamma is a witch

but am I the only one wibbling that Francie is going to lose her cameo?

Author:  Lizzie [ 12 Feb 2007, 13:08 ]
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This great Ray, thank you!

Author:  Lyanne [ 16 Feb 2007, 02:46 ]
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Now if we scan Eric's picture in to a computer & search the internet for one that matches it, we can find out where he comes from!

What do you mean, there's no internet yet? Or scanners? Huh! We'll just have to wait for Ray to tell us.

Dawn wrote
but am I the only one wibbling that Francie is going to lose her cameo?

No, you are not. I just hope it doesn't get caught up in the rubbish.

Author:  Kathy_S [ 16 Feb 2007, 04:04 ]
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Thank you for bumping this -- and many thanks to Ray for writing it!

And continuing to write.

Hint, me? :wink:

Author:  Ray [ 16 Feb 2007, 09:49 ]
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Thank you very much :), particularly for your patience!

Fingers crossed, I should have the next couple of chapters written over the weekend.

(Unless, of course, work is quiet today; in which case there might be an update this evening!)

Ooh; as for those of you worrying about the cameo...

:twisted: :twisted: :twisted:

Ray *:wink:*

Author:  Ray [ 21 Feb 2007, 07:11 ]
Post subject: 

Sorry for spreeing... Here's the next installment :)

Chapter 15

Arm in arm with Eric, Francie followed the rest of the family group through into the Spiessesaal where Christmas lunch was waiting. As she entered, Anna was just placing the last of the soup bowls on a table that already looked laden with food.

There were baskets of crusty rolls and dishes of butter. Little saucers of pickles and chutneys mingled with pale bowls of apple rings. Great dishes of steaming carrots, parsnips and potatoes were placed next to plates of homemade herby sausages. At one end of the table stood a large, juicy ham; while at the other end was a gleaming, golden goose.

That last came as a small shock to Francie, for whom Christmas had always meant turkey. The part of East Anglia she called home was in the heart of the turkey farming community and there were still people who remembered her father and so provided Mimsie with a fresh turkey in the weeks just before Christmas, or, if not friends of her father's, the turkey was a gift from her father's former employers. Her father's old manager always made sure they were set up for the festive season.

She took her seat and found that she had Eric at her left hand and Ruey at her right. Further down the table, Joey was seated between Phil and Cecil, while Rösli sat between Phil and Geoff. Anna took the seat before the ham; Jack's place was in front of the goose. Len judiciously sat between Roddy and Mike, while Margot performed the same office between Felix and Felicity. Con chose the seat at her father's right hand, with Charles opposite. Stephen squeezed in to the seat between Eric and Cecil, while Reg opted to sit between Felix and Roddy. To Francie's surprise, the last person to sit down, Roger, chose the seat next to Con and bestowed on that young lady a beaming smile, who returned it shyly. 'Is that how the wind sits?' she wondered.

Then her attention was being drawn to Jack, who had stood up once more. "Grace," he called.

Francie bowed her head as Jack recited the same, simple Latin grace the school used. Then, as he sat down again, the meal began.

The food was as delicious as it looked and Francie took delight in sampling a little bit of everything. She found that goose meat was much greasier and richer than turkey and not so much to her tastes (in that, she wasn't alone; Joey stuck with ham alone while the triplets all opted to only have a small amount of the goose), but the ham and the sausages were delectable to the last degree, while all the vegetables were all cooked to absolute perfection.

And then there was the conversation, which flowed around the table in at least two languages and in eddies and currents, making the meal a very lively affair indeed. Francie found herself embroiled in a discussion about literature with Ruey and Charles, while at the same time answering questions from Felicity on a variety of subjects to rival Jack Lambert's perpetual-question-mark status!

Once or twice, she spared a glance for Eric, but he was deep in conversation with Stephen about something. From the odd snatches Francie could hear, she guessed that Stephen was inducting Eric into the mysteries of building a model railway and from the absorbed expression on Eric's face, she guessed the boys had found themselves another ally in their project.

At the end of the meal, to Francie's surprise, it was Stephen and Charles (with Con giving a supervisory hand) who began clearing the table.

"Anna and Auntie Joey and Rösli have done all the hard work this morning," Ruey explained, "so we older ones see to the clearing and washing up and looking after the younger ones for the afternoon."

"Should I---" Francie began.

Margot chuckled. "Reg won't let you within a mile of the kitchen; not with your arm in a sling."

"Certainly not!" Reg agreed, overhearing the comments.

"Will you tell us about an English Christmas?" Felicity asked, fixing Francie with an unnervingly innocent expression.

Her curious gaze was joined by a matching look of interest from Felix and similar expressions from Mike and Roddy and before Francie had consciously considered her answer, she said, "After lunch."

That seemed to satisfy the curious quartet, but it was an answer that left Francie feeling more than a little nervous. Had she just volunteered to look after the youngsters?

"We'll take the younger ones up to the day nursery, when we've finished," Ruey murmured. "Keep them out of mischief for the afternoon."

Francie smiled in relief. At least she wouldn't be doing it on her own!

At that point in her thoughts, Stephen carried in a set of pudding basins and distributed them efficiently to everyone, barring the second twins, and sat down again. A moment later and Charles entered, carefully carrying two jugs of cream. One was set down at either end of the table, then he too returned to his seat.

Last to return was Con, and Francie fully expected her to be carrying a plum pudding. But she wasn't. Instead, she was carrying a large, flat tray. Sitting on top of it was a big round chocolate cake.

Her surprise must have registered in her expression because Margot gave her a matey grin from across the table. "No need to look quite like that," she said. "It's Sachertorte – it's traditional in Austria."

"What is it?" Eric asked curiously.

"It's a cake made with apricots and chocolate," Len answered. "And very nice!"

At that moment, Joey offered Francie a slice. Curious, she accepted and quickly discovered that while Len was right, the cake was very nice, it was also very rich. No-one had more than a small slice and the very youngest children weren't permitted even that.

"No-one," Ruey said later, when Francie mentioned it, "wants to deal with bilious babies on Christmas day!" Which was an unarguable point as far as Francie was concerned.

As the meal finally drew to a close, Joey said, "There's coffee available in the Saal for those who want it."

That seemed to be a cue. Grace was said and then Charles, Stephen and Con, with help from Margot and Ruey began clearing the table. Joey and Rösli bore away the second twins for their afternoon nap. The remainder of the adults at the table departed for either the Saal or, in the case of Eric and Reg, Roger led them up to see the model railway. Francie, for her part, found Felicity had attached herself to Francie's free hand.

"Will you tell us about English Christmases now?" the small girl asked.

"Come up to the day nursery," Len advised. "Then we'll be out of the way."

And so Francie found herself being led, quite firmly, by Felicity, up the stairs and into the bright, cheery room that had been set aside as the day nursery.

Author:  Lesley [ 21 Feb 2007, 07:30 ]
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So lovely - I share Francie's surprise and delight in the differences between the Maynard Christmas and the one that she is used to. Love her thought about living in turkey farming country - Bernard Matthews alive and well then!:lol:

Thanks Ray.

Author:  Fiona Mc [ 21 Feb 2007, 08:08 ]
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Glad to see another update. Am really enjoying this

Author:  Lexi [ 21 Feb 2007, 09:49 ]
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I'm all hungry now.

Thanks Ray, this is great.

Author:  LizB [ 21 Feb 2007, 09:57 ]
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I'm so hungry now - I'm going to have to have a second breakfast :lol:

Thanks, Ray :D

Author:  Ruth B [ 21 Feb 2007, 10:47 ]
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Great to see this back Ray!

Author:  brie [ 21 Feb 2007, 16:50 ]
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yay its back!!

and that was another lovely update there.

so con and roger then? hmmm... :D

Author:  Dawn [ 22 Feb 2007, 12:11 ]
Post subject: 

Lovely update Ray

and I'm even more worried about the cameo now :roll:

Author:  Cath V-P [ 22 Feb 2007, 23:37 ]
Post subject: 

That meal sounds wonderful, and I appreciated Francie's awareness of the differences between what she knew and what the Maynards did.... especially the goose.

Con and Roger?

Apparently, Bernard Matthews started up in the early 1950s......our best man is/was one of his product managers and helped to bring Mini Kievs and other breaded product to a grateful world... :lol: :shock:

Author:  Vikki [ 27 Feb 2007, 23:14 ]
Post subject: 

Wonderful! Thank you Ray!!! :D

Author:  Kathy_S [ 09 Dec 2007, 00:27 ]
Post subject: 


Is it the right season for the next installment? Please?

Author:  brie [ 09 Dec 2007, 11:25 ]
Post subject: 

*Joins in the bumping*

Author:  Caty [ 09 Dec 2007, 11:51 ]
Post subject: 

:cry: I thought it was an update. Aw well, since it's already started, I'm joining in the bumping. I didn't want to start it....but I had thought about it :twisted:

Author:  Lottie [ 09 Dec 2007, 12:57 ]
Post subject: 

*Also joins in bumping*

Author:  claireM [ 09 Dec 2007, 18:19 ]
Post subject: 

I'd thought about seeing if there was more of this too.

Author:  PaulineS [ 09 Dec 2007, 19:36 ]
Post subject: 

Joins in the bumping. More please Ray.

Author:  jacey [ 10 Dec 2007, 14:42 ]
Post subject: 

Oh! I thought this was an update :(
If you're not too busy Ray..........
In the meantime I'm going back to read from the start again, so I'll be prepared for the update :wink:

Author:  Ray [ 26 Mar 2008, 21:37 ]
Post subject: 

Given how long it's been, I'm particularly sorry that this is such a tiddly little update, BUT, I'm more than two thirds of the way through the next one, which will be much longer and should show up at the beginning of next week (if not sooner!). Promise :)

Chapter 16

The rest of the day passed quietly. Francie spent most of the afternoon in the nursery ostensibly teaching the occupants of Maison des Poupees about Christmas in England. That was only brought to an end at sixteen o'clock, when they were all summoned to listen to the Queen's Christmas Message to the Commonwealth in the Saal. After that, there was a light tea on offer and then everyone was free to please themselves.

After an afternoon talking herself nearly hoarse, Francie opted to spend the time between tea and supper ensconced in her room writing a lengthy letter to Mimsie thanking her for the presents and describing the Maynard family's Christmas. She was fully fathoms deep in a description of Mike's antics when there came a knock on the door.

Francie started at the noise, jamming her pen point into the paper. "Drat!" she muttered. Then she blinked as her gaze fell on her watch and she realised that it was almost half past nineteen. Self-consciously, she realised that she had been writing for nearly three hours. "Goodness knows what the postage will be!" she exclaimed, eyeing the pile of closely filled airmail sheets.

There was a second knock on the door, bringing her back to the reason she had stopped writing in the first place. Setting her pen down, Francie turned towards the door just as her visitor finally pushed the door open. She wasn't entirely surprised to see Len, looking sheepish, in the doorway.

"Here you are," said Len. "Are you all right?"

Francie blinked owlishly at Len. "Shouldn't I be?"

"Well, Mama did wonder when you didn't come down for dinner," Len explained. "She sent me up to make sure you were OK."

"It's time for dinner?" Francie repeated blankly.

Len's face split into a grin. "Dinner's nearly half over," she answered.

Francie blinked. "I never heard the gong," she admitted.

"I should say," said Len, chuckling. "What ever were you doing to be so absorbed?"

"Poke nose," Francie retorted. Len didn't look remotely abashed and Francie relented. "Just writing a letter." She waved her hand at the filled sheets. "Or perhaps that should be small novel!"

Len gurgled with laughter. "I see what you mean!"

Francie stiffly got to her feet. "Ouf! I shouldn't think I've moved since tea."

"Well come down and have some dinner," Len advised. "Then Mama's challenged us to Majong." Len's eyes sparkled. "We shall need all the help we can get if we're to beat her."

Francie grinned. "Sounds like fun."

And so it proved as the game of Majong turned into one of the most cutthroat contests that Francie had ever taken part in. At the end, which saw Joey narrowly beat all comers, everyone was dismissed to bed for a much needed early night.

"So that's Christmas," Eric mused as he and Francie climbed the stairs. "Can't think of any better way to do it."

"No," Francie agreed. "It was nice."

"Wonder what tomorrow will be like."

"Quiet," said Len, who was following them. "To let us all down gently from today's excitements."

"Sounds like a good plan to me," Eric remarked. He paused, his hand on the doorknob of his room. "Guess I'll see you folks in the morning. Merry Christmas."

Author:  roversgirl [ 26 Mar 2008, 21:46 ]
Post subject: 

What a lovely Christmas day :) Thanks!

Author:  PaulineS [ 26 Mar 2008, 22:08 ]
Post subject: 

Thanks ray for the update. Looking forward to the next one you have said is nearly ready.

Author:  Elbee [ 26 Mar 2008, 22:32 ]
Post subject: 

Oh good, looking forward to more of this!

Thanks, Ray.

Author:  Nell [ 26 Mar 2008, 23:01 ]
Post subject: 

Fab it's back. Look forward to more and thank you for this!

Author:  Lesley [ 27 Mar 2008, 05:49 ]
Post subject: 

Lovely to see more of this - and francie must have had a great deal to write! :lol:

Thanks Ray.

Author:  LizB [ 27 Mar 2008, 15:07 ]
Post subject: 

*picks self off floor* :wink:

Thanks, Ray :D

Author:  Karoline [ 27 Mar 2008, 19:41 ]
Post subject: 

Great to see this back, thanks Ray

Author:  Kathy_S [ 31 Mar 2008, 00:36 ]
Post subject: 

How did I miss an update? :shock:

Thank you, Ray! :)

Author:  Ray [ 17 Apr 2009, 20:36 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - updated 17/04/09 (page 8)

So, uh, yeah. Just over a year between updates. Where's a grovelling smily when you need one?!

The good news is, the updates will be a little bit like buses. Wait a year for one and three come along at once. (Well, over the course of the next two weeks, at least!)

Chapter 17

The next couple of days passed as quietly as is possible with such lively characters as Mike, Roddy and Felix all trapped indoors courtesy of the weather. Fortunately for everyone, the blizzard blew itself out during the second day of enforced captivity and the next day dawned both bright and frostily clear.

Plans were made over the breakfast table for a morning of fresh air and as much exercise as possible.

"After all," said Joey, "who knows what the weather may do tomorrow."

Francie listened with amusement as the various members of the group chose what they would do – whether they would toboggan, ski or join in with the snow fight that Joey would be overseeing for the small fry. A small part of her felt a little left out of the plans, though. Surely she wouldn't be permitted to take part in the fun?

"What about you?" asked Len presently.

"Me?" Francie blinked. "I don't know. Snow fight with the small fry, I suppose. No-one's said I can join in with anything else."

Len pulled a face and would have made some reply, but Reg got in first: "As long as you don't over do it, you can ski today. I don't recommend tobogganing, though. Your shoulder's probably not up to that."


"Truly." Reg smiled.

"Then that sounds like it's settled," said Joey. "All right, has everyone had enough breakfast?" There were sundry replies in the positive and as a consequence, she called for grace and soon everyone was racing upstairs to get ready.

"Where do we ski?" Eric asked as they reached the top of the stairs.

"You're going to ski?"

"Sure – if you'll show me how," Eric replied. "Figure, if I'm staying here it's gonna be a useful thing to know."

"Good point." Francie put the hand on her doorknob. "Are you sure you want to risk me teaching you? You know what happened the last time I went skiing!"

Eric laughed. "I'll risk it."

"As for where, I'd guess we'll use the same meadow as the school uses."

"Well we can't use the garden here," Con chimed in. "Too many rose bushes. Besides which, Mama wants the garden for the small fry."

"Good point."

They dispersed to their rooms to change into snowsuits and other necessary items before racing back down the stairs to find boots, hats, gloves and the necessary tinted specs, for the sun was now beating down with all of its wintry might.

"Snow blindness," said Margot by way of an explanation to a confused Reg, "is a simply ghastly way of spending your time."

"Snow blindness?" Reg echoed dubiously. "Is this a have?"

"Don't think so," said Eric. "Sounds kinda familiar to me." He shrugged. "He---uh, it's making my eyes itch thinking about it."

Francie lifted an eyebrow. "You've suffered from it?"

"Who knows?" Eric shrugged again and settled the proffered specs on his nose. "All I do know is I'm not messing with it."

"It's certainly not a leg pull, Reg," Joey contributed, making her presence known for the first time. "A friend of mine had a really nasty bout of it, back when we lived in the Tyrol. I admit, though, it does sound a little mad."

"You're the experts." Reg meekly held his hand out to Margot for his pair of specs.

"Felicity's decided she'd rather snow fight than ski," Joey continued, "so you'll only need to keep an eye cocked for Felix, Mike and Roddy – Roger is going with the boys, but he's only got one pair of eyes."

"Ruey and I are tobogganing too," said Con. "We can sit on Mike and Felix as necessary."

"Literally, if we must," Ruey added, provoking giggles from the gathering.

"Well, if you're all ready, you'd better cut along. Who knows how long the good weather will hold."

And with that, Joey departed for the garden and the nursery snow fight.

Len surveyed the gathering. "Better load the skis onto your toboggan, Ru, otherwise we shan't get there safely."

Francie, who had been wondering exactly how they would get two novices to the meadow, nodded. "We can use the poles as alpenstocks."

"Can do," said Ruey, who promptly departed with a clatter to collect the toboggan.

Reg looked faintly worried. "Suddenly, I'm less convinced this is a good idea."

Eric smiled. "Figure we need to start somewhere."

"It's not as bad as all that," said Margot severely. "Trust me."

"Come on," said Con. "We should be going."

Thus adjured, the party left the warmth of Freudesheim and made their way along to the meadow.

Some of the Platz's other residents were already out, making the most of the fine weather. On the hill, Francie could make out Val Gardiner and Celia Everett preparing to descend the toboggan run, while on the far side of the meadow and making a direct line for Freudesheim were Hilary Graves and Biddy Courvoisier, with their small children in tow. Francie guessed that both had been invited to join the Freudesheim snow fight. Lucy Peters wasn't too far behind, though she swerved towards the party from Freudesheim as Ruey and Con started unloading the skis from their toboggan.

"Is Felicity coming out?" Lucy called shyly.

"She's staying at home to snow fight," Len answered. Lucy's face fell. "But you can always go and join in – I know Mama won't mind."

Lucy responded with a beaming grin and departed in Freudesheim's direction and Len turned her attention to strapping on her skis, an example Francie and Margot rapidly followed.

"We'll see you later," said Ruey as she started towards the hill, towing the now empty toboggan behind her.

"Good luck," called Con, following Ruey.

"Now I'm nervous," murmured Eric.

"I certainly wasn't counting on an audience," Reg added, gesturing to the far end of the meadow.

"Don't be silly," said Margot. "No-one'll be paying attention to you."

"Except for us," Len added.

Reg didn't look mollified as Len inducted him into his skis.

"Oh well. Here goes nothing, I guess," said Eric. "And what's the worst that could happen?"

Author:  abbeybufo [ 17 Apr 2009, 20:43 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - updated 17/04/09 (page 8)

Ray wrote:
"Oh well. Here goes nothing, I guess," said Eric. "And what's the worst that could happen?"

What indeed :twisted:

Thanks for the update Ray :D

Author:  BethC [ 17 Apr 2009, 21:49 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - updated 17/04/09 (page 8)

Great to see this back - thank you!

Author:  JB [ 18 Apr 2009, 10:11 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - updated 17/04/09 (page 8)

Thanks, Ray.

That all sounded like fun.

Author:  Lesley [ 18 Apr 2009, 11:18 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - updated 17/04/09 (page 8)

Oh good, lovely to see more of this. :lol:

Thanks Ray!

Author:  dackel [ 19 Apr 2009, 16:31 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - updated 17/04/09 (page 8)

Oh dear, I wish Eric hadn't said that!

Thanks, Ray, it's lovely to see this back!

Author:  brie [ 19 Apr 2009, 20:56 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - updated 17/04/09 (page 8)

Its back!!!!!

Author:  Catherine [ 20 Apr 2009, 14:55 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - updated 17/04/09 (page 8)

Lovely to see more of this, thanks, Ray.

Author:  claireM [ 24 Apr 2009, 18:27 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - updated 17/04/09 (page 8)

Good to see this again, thanks Ray.

Author:  Ray [ 24 Apr 2009, 22:21 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - updated 24/04/09 (page 8)

Thank you very much; both for your patience and your kind comments. This is the penultimate installment of this story - and there have been points when I doubted I'd get here, but here I be!

Last part will be up next Friday.

Chapter 18

After such a magnificent example of tempting providence, Francie had fully expected something to go dramatically wrong but Providence, it seemed, was busy elsewhere. Certainly, her victims that day didn't number Eric who, to his general surprise, rapidly discovered that he knew enough about skiing to at least keep his balance.

"There's no justice," muttered Reg, as he picked himself up for the third time in succession.

Eric's only answer was a sheepish smile.

"Never mind about Eric," said Len severely. "Try again."

"Come on," said Francie, "we'll go and join Audrey and---"

But at that moment, there were a series of loud shouts from the tobogganers.

"That's Mike!" Len was suddenly alert for trouble and looked as if she was set to fly across the meadow to see what was going on.

"And Roddy," said Margot, "and Roger, Con and Ruey are already dealing with them."

There was an odd note in Margot's voice that made Francie frown, all the more so since Len winced and turned her attention back to Reg. She wondered what it meant.

"Maybe we should leave Reg to find his balance?" Eric suggested, dragging Francie's attention away from her thoughts.

"Good idea," said Margot. "Race you!" And so saying, she took off, skimming across the frozen meadow.

"Are you going to let her beat you?" Eric enquired.

"What about you?"

"I'll get there in my own time," he replied, smiling wryly. "I know my limits."

That was all the encouragement Francie needed and she was off after the youngest triplet, though there was never a chance of catching the younger girl – her lead was too good. It didn't matter, so far as Francie was concerned. The chance to fly over the snow was too good to miss and this time, at least, there was no danger of a junior middle causing her to come a cropper!

It was as well she took her opportunity when she did for not long after, the sun disappeared behind thickening and threatening looking clouds. Absurdly, Francie found herself waiting to hear the recall whistle, only to remember that there wasn't anything so organised out of school. Instead, it was left to elder siblings and responsible adults to start clearing the meadow. And yet, for all the obvious inefficiency of the method, it was surprisingly effective because even the youngest on the meadow had lived in these parts long enough to know that when home time was called, it was time to leave.

Francie pulled up in her headlong flight across the meadow and turned for home herself, noting that even as she did so, Margot was performing a similar manoeuvre.

Roger, with Con and Ruey to help, swiftly marshalled the boys to leave and helped Audrey to chivvy Val and Celia. The latter trio joined up with the Courvoisier and Graves parties to head for their end of the Platz while Roger led the tobogganers in the direction of Freudesheim.

"Come on," said Francie as she reached Eric. "Time to head back."

"I guessed as much. More snow?"

"Probably." They set off after the tobogganers and were soon rapidly joined by Margot, who had managed to catch them up.

"How will Reg get back?" Eric asked as the three of them neared the tobogganers.

"'Spect Len's already got him to slip his skis off," said Margot knowingly. "In fact, there!" and she contrived to point with a free hand to where Reg was joining up with the marching tobogganers, skis already strapped to Ruey's toboggan.

The three skiers, soon augmented by Len, overtook the tobogganers. As they passed, Con called, "Tell Mama to have coffee ready for us!"

"Can do!" Len answered.

And then they were passed and almost to the gates of Freudesheim. Francie wasn't surprised to see Joey wrapped up in a shawl and standing on the doorstep waiting for them.

"There you are!" she called as they entered the garden. "Where are the rest?"

"Just coming," Len replied. "They're not far behind us."

"Good. There's coffee ready in the Spiessesaal. Make haste to come in, I don't like the way the clouds are shaping up."

Thus adjured, the four of them rapidly removed their skis and Margot volunteered to carry them round to the shed, allowing Len, Eric and Francie to go straight in to strip off boots and outdoor wraps.

A few minutes later and the tobogganers arrived and as they did so, the first flakes of snow were beginning to lazily drift down.

"That'll put an end to any ideas of outdoor fun this afternoon," said Ruey with a grimace.

"It certainly will," said Joey with decision. "Go and get unwrapped and have some coffee. Lunch is in less than an hour."

Ruey did as she was bidden.

Over lunch, which was a relatively tame meal by Freudesheim standards, the snow thickened until it had reached blizzard proportions once again. After the meal, as the snow continued to fall, Joey decreed a quiet afternoon for all. The boys promptly shot upstairs to put some more work in on their model railway under Roger's watchful guidance. Reg, suffering from unaccustomed exertions, disappeared into his room ostensibly to catch up on his professional reading, while Con, whose expression had turned dreamy, likewise vanished into her room.

"Got a poem on the boil," said Margot knowingly.

Everyone else gathered either in the nursery, where Joey was reading to the small fry, or in the Saal armed with books, embroidery or knitting. Francie, for her part, brought down her workbasket and 'The Scarlet Pimpernel'. Her theory was that the mending might seem a little more palatable if there was the reward of a chapter of the beloved book after each item.

"Catching up?" enquired Ruey, who'd produced some knitting to be getting on with.

Francie eyed the pile of mending and fetched a deep sigh. "I couldn't do any while my arm was in plaster, and Matey did at least excuse me from trying, but I really should have it finished before we go back or she will have something to say!"

Len lowered her book to admire the pile and giggled. "I should say so."

"All the same, I swear this pile's multiplied like stink." Francie sighed again and selected a stocking to darn. "I hate darning."

"I'll trade you darning for hemming," Margot offered.

"No thank you!" Francie grinned. "I hate hemming even more."

"Well it was worth a try." And so saying, the youngest triplet began pinning up the hem of the petticoat she was mending.

"If you weren't so hard on your clothes," said Ruey with a mischievous grin.

Margot responded with an impressive grimace. "This was Mike's fault."

At that moment, Eric entered the Saal looking a little lost for something to do.

"Not joining the railway enthusiasts?" asked Ruey.

"They're laying track out at the moment so they don't need an extra pair of hands. I figured I'd do some reading, but, uh…" Eric trailed off. "Kinda at a loss to know what to try."

"There is the library, just upstairs," said Len, once more lowering her book. "But if you've no idea of where to start, that probably doesn't help."

"What do you fancy?" asked Margot.

Eric shrugged. "I don't know. Guess that's part of the problem."

That stymied the conversation for a few moments as everyone wracked their brains for suitable suggestions. It was Francie who came up with one first. Setting down the part-darned stocking, she picked up her book and held it out to Eric.

"Here," she said. "Something to try, at any rate."

"But you're reading it," Eric objected.

Francie grinned. "And like I told you on Christmas Eve, I've read it enough times to quote it from memory."

"And," said Len, "if you like it, I know we've got some more of the books in the library here. Gives you a place to start."

"If you're sure," said Eric.

"I am," Francie replied firmly.

"All right; thank you."

Book in hand, Eric departed again and Francie picked up her stocking to continue darning. 'I shall just have to manage my mending without a bribe,' she thought with another deep sigh. 'But, oh! How tedious it will be!' Then, seeing no other way around it, she began darning with such a will that by the time the gong was sounded for tea, the only items left in her mending pile were a couple of hankies which, on further examination, were beyond redemption.

Author:  Fiona Mc [ 26 Apr 2009, 09:10 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - updated 24/04/09 (page 8)

Thanks Ray, that was lovely.

Author:  Lesley [ 26 Apr 2009, 09:23 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - updated 24/04/09 (page 8)

That was excellent - and I liked the little scene where Len was all prepared to go flying to the 'rescue' until Margot reminded her that there were people there already.

Thanks Ray.

Author:  Miss Di [ 30 Apr 2009, 05:22 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - updated 24/04/09 (page 8)

What on earth do those girls DO to their clothes to have so much mending?

Author:  Ray [ 01 May 2009, 09:15 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - updated 24/04/09 (page 8)

In Francie's case, she is catching up from what she couldn't do when her arm was in plaster :wink:

This is the final part in this story. Thank you for your patience.

Chapter 19

After that, the days began to speed up and before Francie really knew it, the year had turned and everyone began gearing up for the return to school. Being fully fit, she was pressed into service to help with the mammoth packing round that was required before everyone returned to school. She found herself helping Charles gather and sort his belongings, which proved to be no more taxing than making sure Charles properly folded his shirts. To judge by the various shouts and yells that emanated from the bedroom that Mike and Roddy shared, where Joey was dealing with their packing, she had got off very lightly.

There were no further skiing excursions, courtesy of the weather, which had turned back to snowing with a vim that even Joey and Jack, with all their years of Alpine experience, were startled by. In fact, the only expedition made before the return to school was a very crowded trip to the dentist the day before the boys departed.

The following morning, the boys and all their assorted luggage were piled into Minnie, ready to depart. Just before they left, Francie found herself cornered by Mike, who looked shy – an expression that his cherubic face wasn't really designed for.

"Please," he began, "can I write to you?"

It was on the tip of Francie's tongue to point out that the question really should have been "may" rather than "can", but with Mike looking up at her nervously, she suspected he wouldn't take kindly to the correction. Instead, she said, "Of course you can, if you want to."

The answering beaming smile told Francie that she'd said the right thing, although part of her was wondering just what she'd really be able to say in reply!

After the boys had departed, packing was once more the order of the day and Francie was soon hard at it, hunting up her various items of uniform and the other sundries she'd require for the coming term and packing them carefully into her trunk.

"I guess it won't hurt too bad if you forget something," observed a voice from the doorway.

Francie paused, part way through folding a blouse, and looked round. Eric was standing in the doorway, looking far too amused. "Don't you believe it," she retorted. "Matron will have my guts for garters." She finished folding the blouse and laid it carefully into the trunk.

Eric chuckled and said nothing.

Francie poked her tongue out at him and picked up another blouse for folding. "What can I do for you?"

For answer, Eric thrust out a book. "Figured I ought to let you have your book back before you go back to school."

Francie paused and finally turned to face Eric fully. "Only if you've finished it," she said. "Otherwise I can always reclaim it from you when I next see you."

"Well that might be a bit longer than you're necessarily thinking," said Eric, rubbing the back of his head in a vaguely sheepish fashion.

Francie lifted her eyebrows. "Oh? Are you going somewhere?"

He shook his head. "Not exactly. It's just--- Since I'm staying here, I need to have some form of employment and Jack's offered me an administrative position at the San. Some typing, some filing, that kind of thing. And given the weather---"

"Given the weather you're going to be moving into one of the spare apartments the San keeps," Francie completed. Eric nodded. "I see." She grinned. "Keep the book. Honestly; I know it nearly word for word, so I shan't miss it."

"Are you sure?"


"Well, all right then," said Eric, smiling in return. "Thank you." He nodded towards the half-packed trunk. "Guess you'd better get on with that."

"I had," Francie agreed. She turned back to the trunk and picked up the next blouse. "See you later."

"Count on it."

She smiled as Eric took his leave. Another twenty minutes of hard work and she would be finished.

Sure enough, just as the mellow tones of the gong began to sound to call her to lunch, Francie finished packing her trunk. It would be piled into Minnie together with the trunks belonging to the triplets, Ruey and Felicity, and driven over to the school, once Jack was back from Interlaken. She wouldn't go over to the school until the following morning, though.

It was going to be odd, she reflected as she trotted downstairs for the meal. She had never not needed to travel at least half a day before arriving at school. Even in the St Briavals days, it had still been a major expedition to get there, so the morrow would be very different.

'Just like everything else this year,' she mused, grinning. 'Still, at least I know where I stand for the coming term, and it can't possibly be as crowded as last term.'

To be continued in Difficulties for Francie...

Author:  Catherine [ 01 May 2009, 09:51 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

Looks like Francie has a lifelong fan in Mike! I wonder if he will remember to write to her!

Thank you, Ray. I've really enjoyed this and I'm so glad you're writing another sequel!

Author:  shazwales [ 01 May 2009, 16:27 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

Thank you Ray,looking forward to the next one??

Author:  Nell [ 01 May 2009, 19:30 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

Thanks Ray - great to see this finished and I'm looking forward to more when you have time!

Author:  PaulineS [ 01 May 2009, 19:36 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

Thanks Ray. Looking forward to a sequel.

Especially in view of the last line and the title.

'Just like everything else this year,' she mused, grinning. 'Still, at least I know where I stand for the coming term, and it can't possibly be as crowded as last term.'

Author:  Lesley [ 01 May 2009, 19:57 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

Very pleased Eric is staying around - and that there is a sequel.

Many thanks Ray. :lol:

Author:  abbeybufo [ 01 May 2009, 21:59 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

Looking forward to the sequel - thanks Ray :D

Author:  Karoline [ 02 May 2009, 07:43 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

Thanks Ray, looking forward to the sequel

Author:  Thursday Next [ 02 May 2009, 08:59 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

Thank you Ray, I am really enjoying your writing.

My prayers are with your family at the moment.

Author:  Cath V-P [ 04 May 2009, 02:47 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

Thank you Ray; I thoroughly enjoyed this and am looking forward to reading more.

Author:  topcat [ 10 May 2009, 17:42 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

I really enjoyed this, thank you Ray - it felt just the way I like to feel the Maynard family would have been. No one is perfect but no one is awful either and overall they all work together and like each other.

Author:  Kathy_S [ 12 May 2009, 02:40 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

Thank you, Ray! I've really enjoyed this, and look forward to any and all sequels.

Author:  topcat [ 16 May 2009, 12:52 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

Thanks Ray,

I am ready and waiting for the next one

Author:  Lyanne [ 17 May 2009, 16:32 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

Thank you Ray, I've really enjoyed seeing Francie's interactions with Mike, and the whole family.

Now for the sequel, and finding out who Eric is!

Author:  thefrau46 [ 02 Jun 2009, 08:35 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

:D :D :D :D :D
Really wonderful. I hope you have time to start the sequel soon.

Author:  Ray [ 05 Jun 2009, 17:15 ]
Post subject:  Re: Mistletoe and Wine - completed 01/05/09 (page 9)

Thank you very much :)

The sequel is now up and begun here:

Whether you'll find out who Eric is in this installment...time will tell :devil:

Ray * :halo: *

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