Christmas at Mallows

Over the last few weeks, excitement had been growing about the imminent arrival of Christmas. Rooks and robins had been arriving at Mallows with tales of happy children trudging home  from school carrying long chains of coloured paper decorations to hang in the cottages.

‘Even the frosty air feels warm and sweet’ commented a blackbird, ‘filled with the aroma of cakes baking in ovens and plum puddings boiling over huge log fires. ‘

Tussel had decided to make his Christmas cakes and after stoking the kitchen range into a welcoming orange glow, slid a large tray of mince pies into the oven. He suddenly became aware of the shrill voices of some carol singers and hearing a loud knock he opened the cottage door to see the ladybirds and the old hedgehog huddled together beneath a black starry sky. The night was still and frosty and the ladybirds were vigorously shaking their hands trying to keep them warm inside their mittens. The glow-worms, as usual, were pleased to light the way, huddled inside the swinging lantern frames and of course joining in the singing with gusto.

Tussel ushered them into the cottage and invited them to warm themselves by the fire while he fetched some mince pies and ginger wine from the kitchen.

“Shall we sing our new carol?” shouted Plum one of the ladybirds excitedly, “Mister Joss taught us it, and you’re sure to like it Tussel.”

“All in good time,” replied the old Hedgehog, beckoning them to stop fidgeting and finish eating their pies, while he took a sip of wine from one of Tussel’s polished acorn beakers.

“Now,” he said, at last, tapping one of the lanterns with his baton which made it vibrate and tickle the glow-worms toes.

“Nice and softly and beautifully for Tussel. The Mallows Carol, one two three …”

A Star lit the way to a stable

Where a baby was lying asleep

A spider swung down from a rafter

On the face of the Saviour to peep.

“Chorus” whispered the hedgehog holding the baton close to his ear, “softly.”

  A voice in the starlight has spoken

 With the words of a human so fair

  It tells how to live on our planet

How to give, how to love, how to care

Tussel stood by the kitchen door watching Joss silently mouthing the words as he conducted the little group of singers, determined to draw out the meaning of every phrase                    

 Wise men from afar came to wonder

  Bearings treasures of spices and gold

  While a field mouse lay close by the infant

  Warm and safe from the snow and the cold

Joss tapped gently on the lantern, making the glow worms quickly push their fingers in their ears as this time the lamp rang like a bell.

“As though we really mean it,” mouthed Joss.

A voice in the starlight has spoken

 With the words of a human so fair

  It tells how to live on our planet

  How to give, how to love, how to care.

Joss drew his baton through the air with a grand flourish as if to say thank you for a fine performance and then proceeded to drink another acorn cup full of ginger wine.

“That was very nice,” said Tussel “and sung so beautifully. You really are very clever Mister Joss.”

“Oh there is another verse,” interrupted Blackberry one of the younger ladybirds, “and Mister Joss lets us sing one line each.  Like a solo!”

“Yes but perhaps another time,” blurted Joss, “we do need a lot more practice and we really should be on our way.”

“Oh go on Mister Joss, shouted the glow worms,” let Tussel hear the ladybirds sing their solos.  Pleeease!”

“Well if he really wants to,” began Joss looking rather rosy cheeked and a trifle coy, “if you really want to?”

“We do, we do,” shouted the ladybirds.

“Yes I would love to hear it,” said Tussel “and I’m sure we would all be so disappointed now if we didn’t.”

“We would, we would” chorused the ladybirds.

The old hedgehog stood the four youngest ladybirds at the front and raised his baton above his head, and then tapping Strawberry gently on her back he nodded his head and she began to sing.                       

 The wind told the trees of the baby

Pointing his baton at Plum and raising his eyebrows. 

The rain told the moss in the wood

‘Pip’ he mouthed opening his eyes very wide.                       

All the creatures on earth heard the story

Glancing at Blackberry and smiling.

 All the creatures but one understood.

With a broad grin stretched across his face, the old hedgehog beckoned the whole group including Tussel to join in the chorus, while he waved his baton frantically in the air.

 A voice in the starlight has spoken

 With the words of a human so fair

  It tells how to live on our planet

How to give, how to love, how to share

“That was beautiful Mister Joss,” said Tussel as he helped the little singers find their gloves and scarves, and hand them each a little package wrapped in pretty holly patterned paper. “You must write down the words and the tune before they are forgotten.”

But the old hedgehog just nodded and said

“We must be on our way Tussel, so many calls to make yet.”

Tussel stood in the porch for some time watching his friends as they strode into the night, their happy voices rising and falling on the frosty air until the cool green glow of the swinging lanterns dissolved into the blackness. He closed the cottage door, thinking that now was a good time to bake his Christmas cake and wrap the last few presents. Taking an apron from behind the cupboard door below the stairs he began mixing the flour and butter and selecting the dried nuts and fruit he’d collected through the summer.

 The wind told the trees of the baby

  The rain told the moss in the wood

   All the creatures on earth heard the story

    All the creatures but one understood.

It was past midnight by the time Tussel had finished wrapping the presents, a silk handkerchief for Sluice at the Lido and a wooden spoon carved by the squirrels for Mrs Peckle, a tiny pair of bookends that he had made himself for the church mice at od and some pretty polished pebbles to use as marbles for the squirrel twins Clove and Boley.

‘Now, is that everybody,’ he thought running his finger down the list pinned to the kitchen wall, ‘everyone except Mo mouse and that will have to wait until the morning’ he decided, noticing that he’d used up the whole ball of string.

Tussel removed the cake which had turned a lovely golden brown from the oven and placed it on the kitchen table to cool. He turned down the lamps and checked the fire was safe and after winding the clock on the wall he wearily climbed the stairs to his bed. The moonlight streamed in through the lattice window highlighting the feathery patterns drawn by the frost on the diamond panes.

Tussel crawled into the darkness bellow the quilt, where he could see the cool green glow-worms dancing behind his closed eyelids to the tune of the carol as the words slowly rolled round and round inside his sleepy head.

  A voice in the starlight has spoken

   With the words of a human so fair

     It tells how to live on our planet

    How to give, how to love, how to share.

(c) Copyright 2017 Barry Freeman