Countdown To Christmas – Episode 24

THEY shuffled off stage to tumultuous applause and piercing whistles that Kate recognised as coming from her boys.“That was amazing!” she said breathlessly to Sally. “Now I know how the Olympic gold medal winners felt!”“Not a foot wrong!” Sally exclaimed, hugging her awkwardly. “You didn’t put a foot wrong! Didn’t I tell you that you could do it!”“Shh,” Ted scolded from the side of the stage, as Magnificent Maurice And His Marvellous Magic Act squeezed past with his props to take his turn.“Break a leg!” Sally said recklessly, and Maurice grinned.“That’s rich, coming from you!” He nodded at her sling.As he took the stage to a warm reception, the tap-dancers skipped back to the changing- room, as high as kites with excitement.Dolores was jubilant.“You all did so well! Even you, Kate, all that worrying, and you were step-perfect! I’m very proud to have shared the stage with all of you. You performed like professionals.”“Let’s slip round to the back of the hall to watch the rest of the show,” Sally suggested. “You’re not needed again till you take a bow at the end, are you?”“Good idea,” Kate agreed. “I want to see the choir. Poor Mavis will be a bag of nerves, wondering if her voice will hold up . . . But are you sure you’re OK?”“Fine,” Sally assured her airily. “I think the painkillers have finally kicked in.”They waited till Maurice had finished his act and Ted was on stage again to bring back Charlie Hopkins “by popular demand!” Then they crept in the side door of the hall . . . realising too late that Kate should have removed her tap- shoes before she tried to tiptoe to the back. Charlie Hopkins had just taken the microphone, and quick as a flash he was whistling “Three Blind Mice” in perfect time with their steps as he peered into the semi-darkness.Nick, on the spotlight, swung the beam around and it picked out Kate and Sally, frozen mid step, their shadows large on the wall behind them like two cartoon robbers.As the whole place erupted in laughter, they did the only thing they could: grinning, they curtseyed theatrically and scooted to the back row.“Sorry, Charlie!” Sally hollered. “Don’t mind us!”“I wouldn’t mind, but you got a bigger laugh than I’ve had all night!” he returned good-naturedly.Charlie finished his act, and then it was the choir’s turn to bring the evening’s entertainment to its close. Wearing simple black dresses with red scarves draped at the neck for the women, and dark suits with red ties for the men, they had just taken the stage when the lights flickered . . .“Oh, no!” There was a collective gasp. Everyone instinctively looked up at the stage lights, expecting them to black out.They flickered once more . . . and then burned steady and bright.The gasp turned to a sigh and the rippling laughter of relief.The choir collected themselves, and as silence fell, they launched into a jazzed-up version of “Jingle Bells”. That was still being applauded when they continued seamlessly into “Let It Snow” ironic, given the way the day had started. Then it was time for their closing piece, “The Little Drummer Boy”. This would be Mavis’s big test.She stepped forward, betraying no sign of nerves although Kate was sure she must be feeling them, after the trouble her voice had given her.“Rest,” Mavis had been ordered by her doctor, who guessed that she had simply been putting in too much practise and had strained her vocal cords. Chastened, Mavis had obeyed him to the letter, determined not to let her fellow singers down.Brian raised his hand, and the choir began, closely watching his every command. Finally, Mavis’s moment was here. Brian pointed at her, and with the slightest nod of reassurance, she opened her mouth . . .Expectation crackled in the air. The tension was almost unbearable.Then Mavis’s glorious voice filled the hall, flawless and pure, and you could almost hear the audience sagging back from the edges of their seats. And then you couldn’t hear anything at all but for the choir’s perfect rendition of the old favourite song.Kate had tears in her eyes as the last notes died away.“That was beautiful,” she said with a sigh.Sally nudged her.“We’d better get you backstage to take your bow. Wouldn’t want to miss that!”There was enough applause to drown out their clattering departure, and then the group was being organised by Dolores at the foot of the steps to the stage.“Wait till Ted calls us up, remember.”Gradually the whole cast made their way back up to take their bows, the audience’s applause washing over them in waves of approval. Smiles grew wider, and the conviction grew amongst the performers that their show had been a success.Kate would thank Sally later for bullying her into it, for she knew she wouldn’t have missed it for the world.


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