Christmas with the chrys.., p.1
Christmas With the Chrystals Other Stories, p.1Noel Streatfeild
1. Christmas with the Chrystals
2. An Introduction to Ballet Shoes
3. Independence at Fourteen – from Ballet Shoes
4. More about Ballet Shoes
5. What Happened to Pauline, Petrova and Posy
6. My Christmas Holidays
7. Acting ‘Cinderella’ – from Tennis Shoes
8. Preparing for Christmas
9. Christmas Day – from Theatre Shoes
10. Christmas Presents
11. The Christmas Card – from Circus Shoes
12. Christmas Parties
NOEL STREATFEILD was born in Sussex in 1895 and was one of three sisters. After working in munitions factories and canteens for the armed forces when the First World War broke out, Noel followed her dream of being on stage and went to RADA where she became a professional actress.
She began writing children’s books in 1931 and Ballet Shoes was published in 1936. She quickly became one of the most popular authors of her day. When she visited Puffin exhibitions, there were queues right out of the building and all the way down the street. She was one of the first winners of the Carnegie Medal and was awarded an OBE in 1983.
Noel Streatfeild died in 1986.
Books by Noel Streatfeild
A VICARAGE FAMILY
CHRISTMAS WITH THE CHRYSTALS
1. Christmas with the Chrystals
‘Dear Mum, I saw the enclosed and thought it might suit you and Dad. Love, Ivy.’ The enclosed was an advertisement which read:
Wanted: married couple to take complete charge of kitchen for Christmas. Castle has been rented for large party including several children. Write Box 2060.
Mrs Chrystal read the advertisement at breakfast, and passed it across to her husband, Ted Chrystal.
‘I never thought when I wrote to Ivy saying we might take temporary domestic work we’d be away for Christmas.’
Ted always thought well before he spoke.
‘Nor me neither,’ he agreed at last, ‘but I don’t see no harm in us writing in. We’re used to working of a Christmas, you know, Rosa.’
Rosa took back the advertisement.
‘In our own line, yes, but fancy us spending all Christmas in a kitchen – seem funny, wouldn’t it?’
There was another pause, during which Ted slowly finished his cup of tea.
‘I don’t know so much. We’ve always tried to give kids a good time of a Christmas and this is another way of doing it. You’re a beautiful cook, Rosa, and, though I say it as shouldn’t, you couldn’t want a better kitchen help than your humble.’
Rosa looked rather like an old-fashioned cottage loaf, for she had an almost round body. Now she heaved herself out of her chair, and balanced herself on her short fat legs.
‘Whatever you say, Ted, you know that. I’ll get the inkpot and write straight away.’
Three days later the Chrystals got a reply to their letter. It was written on very grand stiff cream note-paper, with a London address and telephone number at the top.
Dear Mrs Chrystal,
I am instructed by Mrs Cornelius to reply to your application. You will please both call at the above address on Monday next at 12 noon precisely.
‘I don’t know, Ted,’ said Rosa, ‘that I like the sound of this. There’s something about that twelve noon precisely that I don’t fancy.’
Ted took the letter, read it, and held it up to the light to see the watermark in the paper. Then he passed it back to Rosa.
‘I know what you mean and maybe I don’t fancy it myself, but where that paper come from there’s money, and we can do with a bit of that, so we’ll be there at twelve noon precise come Monday.’
Mrs Cornelius lived in an immensely expensive block of flats not far from Piccadilly. Rosa had on her fur coat, a leftover from better-off days. The fur had an out-all-night look, and the coat no longer met in front, so it had to be worn open, but, as Rosa said to Ted, ‘fur gives confidence’. Under the coat she wore what she called ‘me velvet’. This was a plum-coloured dress which had been good once but now, at important places, had a bald look. On her head she wore a small black hat trimmed with a shiny buckle. Ted had on his only suit, steamed and pressed for the occasion, his better shirt carefully pruned by Rosa of threads round the collar and cuffs, and his overcoat. They were not proud of the overcoat, which was definitely past its prime, so it had been their plan to leave it in the hall of the flats while they saw Mrs Cornelius, but the uniformed commissionaire was so terrifically grand and aloof they lost their nerve, and having given the flat number, meekly followed him into the lift, Ted still wearing the coat.
Some women can never make the place where they live look like a home. Others, even if they only spend a night in a room give it a belonging atmosphere. Mrs Cornelius was the first sort of person. Her sitting-room was enormous, with a lovely view from the windows of Green Park. Everything she possessed was rare and expensive; some pieces of her furniture and many of her ornaments should have been in a museum. Every chair and the sofa had cushions without a dent in them, so it was hard to believe anyone sat down. The exquisite desk, though there was a chair in front of it, was obviously never used. In great vases, though it was December, there were formal arrangements of forced spring flowers, which seemed to droop from lack of affection.
Ted and Rosa, having been shown in by a pompous man-servant, waited until the door shut, then they gave each other a look.
‘This isn’t us, Ted,’ Rosa whispered, ‘no money wouldn’t be worth it.’
Ted answered, for him, quite quickly.
‘Shouldn’t wonder if you’re right, old girl. Pity, we could have done with the money, but it just wouldn’t be worth it if we was scared to touch anything.’
A woman came in. She was small, thin, mouse-coloured all over, and nervous as a bird scared, though it is hungry, to pick up a crumb. She spoke in a low, frightened voice.
‘Mr and Mrs Chrystal? I’m Miss Smith, Mrs Cornelius’s secretary.’
‘Pleased, I’m sure,’ said Rosa.
Ted gave a faint bow.
‘Good morning, Miss.’
‘Mrs Cornelius is seeing you herself.’ Miss Smith stated this as if she was telling the Chrystals they were to see the Queen.
Her tone gave Rosa courage.
‘I don’t think we’ll be troubling her, thank you.’ She was going to explain that she and Ted liked nice things round them, but homely, when she was stopped in the middle of a word by Miss Smith, whose face was wobbling as faces do before the owner cries.
‘Oh, please don’t say no. I oughtn’t to tell you this, but you’re the only answer we’ve had, and we’ve been advertising for ages, and it’s almost Christmas, and how I’m going to manage the castle on my own …’ The wobble won, tears began rolling down Miss Smith’s mouse-coloured face.
‘Now, dear,’ said Rosa, ‘don’t take on.’
Ted made shocked clucking noises.
‘Maybe we spoke hasty. Mrs Chrystal and me have never been ones to let others down.’
Miss Smith dabbed her eyes.
‘So stupid, but you’ve no idea what is planned, you see …’ She broke off, turning grey under the mouse colour. ‘Here is Mrs Cornelius. Please, please don’t tell her I was upset, or what I’ve said.’
Mrs Cornelius was a woman who might have been seventy, but her face, hair and teeth had for years been so regard
‘Are these the couple, Miss Smith?’ Miss Smith made a sound which could have been yes. Mrs Cornelius came into the room and sat down. She pointed to the sofa. ‘You may sit.’
Gingerly Ted and Rosa sat, terribly conscious as they did so of the dents their behinds were making in the otherwise uncreased sofa. Ted could feel Rosa was nervous and that gave him the courage to be the first to speak.
‘My wife is a good cook, but we were just saying to Miss Smith here we were not at all sure we’d be right for this post …’
Mrs Cornelius apparently did not hear that.
‘I must explain the position for which I may engage you. I have married three times. I gave my first husband a daughter before he died. That daughter is now married, a very poor marriage, I fear. She has two children. My second marriage was to an American. I gave him a son before he died; that son is now dead, but there is a widow with one child. Mr Cornelius came from South Africa; I gave him a son who is married and has three children. It is many years since I saw my own children, I have never seen my son-in-law nor my two daughters-in-law nor my grand-children, so this year I propose to see them all. I have rented Caldecote Castle, which is in Kent, and I am entertaining them for Christmas. You will cook for the household.’
Rosa had been counting on her fingers while Mrs Cornelius was speaking.
‘That would mean eleven to cook for, as well as yourself and Miss Smith, making thirteen.’
‘That is correct,’ Mrs Cornelius agreed, ‘but as well there will be Mr Cornelius.’
That surprised both Ted and Rosa, who had taken it for granted Mr Cornelius was as dead as were the other two husbands. Rosa looked round for signs of him, for in her opinion you could always tell when there was a man in the house. She could not see anything male about, but she felt that there was a Mr Cornelius somewhere was good news, for it meant, if they took the job, there would be someone else to work for besides Mrs Cornelius.
‘That makes a difference, doesn’t it, Ted?’
Mrs Cornelius turned the full blaze of her eyes on Rosa.
‘I cannot imagine why Mr Cornelius should make a difference, for it is many years since we met.’
There was a pause, while Rosa and Ted digested that. Then Ted said, ‘Fourteen plus staff I suppose.’
‘Dailies only, so no meals,’ Mrs Cornelius stated firmly.
Ted shook his head, for he was by now determined not to allow his Rosa to endure Mrs Cornelius.
‘All the same, it’ll be too much for the wife.’ He got up. ‘I’m sorry we’ve taken up your time. Come along, Rosa.’
Miss Smith gave a sound between a sob and a moan. Rosa, as she heaved herself up from the soft depths of the sofa, looked at her with compassion.
‘Don’t take on, dear, but fourteen is a lot and we’re not as young as we were.’
Mrs Cornelius gave Miss Smith a look which, had she seen it, would have shrivelled her.
‘Be quiet you foolish creature.’ She held up a hand. ‘One moment, you two. I realize the work will be hard, so if you are willing to go to the castle on Friday next to prepare and lay in stores, and to remain until the 28th, I will pay you over and above all expenses one hundred pounds.’*
One hundred pounds! To Rosa and Ted that was a fortune, magic money which others had but never you. Why, however hard the work, with a hundred pounds they could afford to get over it with a little holiday. Ted nudged Rosa to show she should answer.
‘Very well, Mrs Cornelius, if you would put the offer in writing, we’ll come.’
Miss Smith and the Chrystals arrived together on the following Friday. The castle, they discovered, though it was partly lived in sometimes by the owners, was mostly a museum, and it is difficult to make museums homely for a Christmas party. Mrs Cornelius was using only one wing, but that had thirty bedrooms, a vast drawing-room, a dining-room, which looked as though it should have belonged to a city company, a billiard room, and many smaller rooms. It had, too, a great central staircase and long passages most inadequately heated.
‘The temperature in Mrs Cornelius’s part of the castle is never to drop below seventy degrees,’ said Miss Smith through chattering teeth.
Rosa had her own troubles with a great draughty kitchen, but she still had kindness to spare for Miss Smith.
‘You can only do your best, dear. I reckon if you get the chill off the place it’ll be a miracle.’
But it is wonderful what can be done when there is unlimited money to spend, and by midday on Saturday there were fires in every fireplace, and oil stoves in chilly corners, and an old man who lived nearby was bribed at an enormous wage to do nothing but keep the stoves and fires going.
Miss Smith contrived other miracles. Nobody wants to work over Christmas, especially not housewives with their own families to think of, but Christmas is an expensive time, and so Miss Smith, with persuasion and offering unheard-of pay, organized a small regiment of women willing to work in shifts starting on the Monday morning.
Rosa and Ted would not have any help as they felt there would have to be a good deal of muddling through, and if that was to happen they would rather it was when there was no one watching. One of their troubles was the food. Rosa prided herself on her cooking, but some of the things sent for the store cupboard she had never heard of or seen before. There were tins of strange tropical fruits. There were great chunks of dried turtle – looking for all the world like blocks of amber. Did people really drink soup made of kangaroos’ tails? They had, of course, heard of pâté de foie gras, but how did you serve it? The same applied to caviare; never had Rosa supposed caviare was sold in such enormous tins. Then there were cases of Christmas delicacies. Was the cook expected to arrange all the exotic little eats, and, if so, on what?
‘Thank God I brought my Mrs Beeton,’ Rosa confided to Ted; ‘if I’m properly stuck she’ll see me through.’
Mrs Cornelius arrived in the morning. Until she came into the castle there had been a happy bustle as Miss Smith’s first shift of women came in and began cleaning and polishing. The women knew each other, and there were jokes and whistling and snatches of singing. But the moment Mrs Cornelius came in it was as if the icy wind from outside came with her. She made a tour of inspection, and though she said very little, and even gave a word of praise – ‘Your arrangements appear satisfactory, Miss Smith’ – as she went round the castle, the Christmas feeling seemed to slip out through the doors and windows.
Rosa and Ted had by now made the kitchen their home. It was gay with Christmas cards, for another large batch had arrived that morning, and Ted had found some holly in the grounds and had stuck branches over the clock and on the dresser. Then there was Rosa’s old thumbed Mrs Beeton on the table, and Rosa’s large overalls hanging on the kitchen door. So it was not into an unlived characterless room that Mrs Cornelius stepped when she visited the kitchen, but into a warm, rich-smelling place, full of atmosphere.
Rosa and Ted had been practising for that moment, and though they had laughed a lot they had it planned to perfection.
‘Good morning, Madam, welcome to Caldecote Castle,’ said Ted with a deep bow.
Rosa, for all her cottage-loaf shape, managed a bob of a curtsy.
‘And the compliments of the season, Madam; I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.’
This welcome sounded so like a scene from an old-fashioned play that Mrs Cornelius gave each of the Chrystals a look from her hard blue eyes to see if the welcome was intended as insolence. But it clearly was not, f
Mrs Cornelius did not reply to the goodwill wishes, but they did something to her, for she did not say the words that had been on her lips when she came in: ‘Take down those cards and that holly. This is a kitchen, not an amusement arcade.’ Instead she went straight to giving her orders.
‘I shall have a light lunch. All my guests will be here for tea. Miss Smith has, I believe, given you the menu for dinner tonight?’
‘Yes, Madam,’ said Rosa.
‘Then that I think is all.’ Mrs Cornelius turned to go, but Rosa stopped her.
‘What about the children?’
‘What about them?’
‘Well, children won’t be eating oysters and that at eight o’clock like you’ve ordered,’ Rosa explained. ‘Are they to have supper, or something for their tea?’
It was so long since Mrs Cornelius had met a child, and even her own she had never seen eat that she could remember, so she did not know what Rosa meant.
‘Something for their tea? What can you have for tea other than cake, scones and sandwiches?’
Ted saw he must help Rosa.
‘Miss Smith told us the eldest child is fourteen and the youngest seven; that means special food, Madam, and a sit-down tea.’
‘A glass of milk and biscuits or that for the little ones in bed,’ Rosa added, ‘but something light but tasty for the others, they won’t want to upset their stomachs with what’s going into the dining-room.’
Mrs Cornelius looked and felt as if she was having something unpleasant told to her.
‘I am really not interested in what or when the children eat. I will instruct Miss Smith to find out from the parents what is required and she will inform you.’
Once more Rosa and Ted managed the bow and bob they had rehearsed. Then, as the door closed behind Mrs Cornelius, Rosa covered her mouth with her hand to hold back the big laugh that rose like a fountain in her.
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