It turned out that whilst she was pleased to see Mrs Pumphrey, and to a certain extent, Tango Pete also, Harold Angel, Merrily Onhigh, seven swans and five leaping lords were 14 guests too many extra. Christmas Eve was all becoming too, too bouncy by far.
'I've invited them all to stay for Christmas,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'I didn't think you'd mind.'
'Have you see the...the...chaos in the dining room?' said Mrs Miggins, looking about as agog as Mrs Pumphrey had ever seen her. 'It is packed in there! I've had to get Colin Bird and Turtle Dave to go round the entire house gathering all the tables they can find, and Holly and Ivy have been sent to Mrs Bobbinflaxenfluff to see if there is ANY chance whatsoever of her weaving an emergency 24 feet in length table cloth, just so everyone can sit down to dinner together. Titbury Fire and Rescue Service want to do a risk assessment on the number of candles I need to use to provide ambient lighting on the table, and it is a good job that mismatched crockery and cutlery is de rigeur this year because that is all I can provide. And don't get me started on potatoes. When I ask people what veg they'd like for their Christmas lunch they all, without fail, say, 'I'm not fussed about the veg, but I do like a roast potato or seven.'
'I'm sorry,' said Mrs Pumphrey, who truly was because she loved Mrs Miggins and did not like to see her in a domestic tizz. 'I can tell them to go away if you like. Or perhaps they can camp out in the stables? The Leaping Lords really do not have anywhere to stay, and Harold and Merrily have been so kind and helpful in my search for the last L of Christmas...'
'Did you find it?' said Mrs Miggins, suddenly remembering the cause of all this trouble. 'The Last L of Christmas?'
'Yes,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'I did.'
'And now that you have got it, can you spell Christmas in a way that is more satisfactory than the way we have been spelling Christmas for 2,000 years?' said Mrs Miggins.
'Well,' said Mrs Pumphrey, 'I've tried putting the L in Christmas and all I've come up with is Christlmas, Christmasl, Chrilstmas, and Christmlas, and to be honest, none of them look right...'
'And what does that tell you?' sighed Mrs Miggins, who was beginning to feel a bit worn down by it all. Plus she could smell the pickled red cabbage over-doing in the oven.
'That there is No L in Christmas,' said Mrs Pumphrey.
'And what have you done with your Last L?' said Mrs Miggins.
'I have hung it by the fire place, because it looks a bit like the shape of a Christmas stocking,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'And the other few Ls I had I've chucked on the fire. They went up a treat.'
'You always were good at adding some few L to the fire,' sighed Miggins, in a last ditch attempt at a pathetic pun that didn't really work but then she was, and always has been, at the literary mercy of the author, so be kind to her.
And so, on the Last Day of Advent, there gathered at Much Malarkey...
Twelve Turkish Drummers,
Two plumbers piping,
Five Lords Morris leaping,
Some Strictly Ladies dancing,
Two Maids not milking,
Seven swans aplombing,
One goose called Merrily,
One engagement ring....(cue hold that note...and...breathe...and continue...)
One Colin Bird,
Many Malarkey hens,
One Turtle Dave
And a tiddled quail called Harold Angel!
'That doesn't scan very well, does it?' said Tango Pete, who had arrived just in time to hear the magnificent, if slightly laboured, choral finale. Harold Angel was by his side looking embarrassed.
Harold Angel shuffled his feet. 'Ahem,' he coughed. 'Er, actually, I have a confession to make.'
A massive hush descended upon the room. The Turkish Drummers desisted with their drumming, the Pipers stopped checking out the piping on the radiators. The Leaping Lords stopped Morris dancing and the Strictly ladies stopped jiving. Holly and Ivy stopped their bickering and even the swans stopped their hissing and honking.
'What is it?' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'What is your confession, Harold?'
Harold Angel took a deep breath. 'I'm not actually a quail,' he said. 'And my name isn't even 'Angel.' just pretended to be one, when I started out in show biz. Quail were a rare thing in those days, especially ones that could sing tenor. And I moved two letters in my name to make it sound more exotic. Thus I became an instant hit. And for all these years I have been living a big fat quail lie. I am just ordinary Harold Angle from Pear Tree Avenue.'
'But I don't understand,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'If you're not a quail, what ARE you?'
'A partridge,' said Harold Angel.
'And so, you see, everything came right at Much Malarkey Manor, just in time for Christmas,' says Primrose. 'Although the weather outside is frightful, the new wood burning stove is delightful. And Denise managed to get through the Twenty Four Days of Advent Story Telling without completely losing her marbles.'
'Some of the jokes were a bit laboured though,' says Daisy.
'But she tried,' says Primrose. 'Which is what writers do. And even though it has been a funny old year, aren't they all in their own way? Life is all ups and downs, and comings and goings, and happy mixed with sad.'
'True, true,' says Daisy. 'Shall I do the honours?'
'Please do,' says Primrose.
'Dear Friends of Much Malarkey Manor,' says Daisy, 'we hope you enjoyed the story. And from all of us - Denise and Andy, Phoebe, Tybalt ,Flora Bijou Mybug, Primrose and me, Daisy - may you have a wonderful Christmas celebration, full of peace and laughter and good cheer, enjoying the company of people you love, and remembering those you love that are not with you.
With all our love - Merry Christmas and God Bless You - One and All!
(P.S Because of a VERY demanding and, dare I say, pedantic MMM guest who has wrangled with the authorities vis a vis the proper Last Day of Advent - 24th, 25th??? Who knows? Who cares?? - I have written a teeny poem which I shall publish tomorrow morning as a sort of 'encore' to the whole sorry affair. It is a little bit naughty so do not tune in if you are very easily offended by Brussel sprouts and parsnips. Just saying.)