By Deone R. Sutherland
Synopsis: Lillian and her friend Pat make pocket money by bicycling around Green Willows selling Kold-ayde. They visit the old-fashioned Diffendorf home where Pat’s three unmarried aunts live. Agnes and Margaret are schoolteachers. Karen, the youngest, is preparing to follow the same profession. Margaret had once been in love with Dr. Turner who lives across the street, and Lillian and Pat cannot understand why Margaret doesn’t marry the doctor, now that he is a widower.
Everything wasn’t all right when I woke Sunday morning. My jaws were very painful.
“Mumps,” said my father.
I could hardly believe it. There were only two more weeks before school let out. This was the best time of the whole year, and I had to come down with the mumps!
“Oh, dear,” said Mother. “Just think of all the people she’s exposed. I suppose she’s exposed everyone who bought drink mix powder from them yesterday.”
“Pat!” I said. “I’ve got to call Pat.”
“You lie in bed,” Mother said. “I’ll do all the phoning necessary. We’ll have the doctor in to look at you, and then I’ll call Pat’s mother. We’ll get a list of everyone else I should call.”
Father held my hand while Mother called Dr. Turner. “Don’t worry, kitten, I’m sure most of the people you’ve exposed have already had the mumps. Of course, I don’t know about Pat.”
“I don’t think she’s had them,” I said. It was beginning to hurt to talk. I couldn’t tell where the hurt began and the lump in my throat left off.
Dr. Turner didn’t laugh or try to console me, which made me feel better. I liked it better when people treated me as if I had some sense. After all, I was no slouch upstairs.
“Since both sides have come out at the same time, you’ll probably be out within a week. This is a fairly light disease. Now, what about the people you directly exposed? Did you go inside anyone’s house yesterday?”
He snapped his bag shut and stood up. He was really tall, as tall as Daddy. He wasn’t too old looking either. On consideration, I could see why Myra Johnson might be chasing him like everything. He was smoothing his sandy hair back, waiting patiently for my answer.
“Well, yes, I did directly expose Pat’s Aunt Agnes and her sister Margaret Diffendorf. We were right next to Margaret for a long time,” I added.
“If Pat hasn’t had them, she probably will now.” Dr. Turner looked out into the sunshine through my window. “I’ll call Agnes and – Margaret. I can give them a test to see if they’re immune or not to mumps if they haven’t had them. If they’re already immune to mumps, they won’t need the shots.” He smiled at me. “Of course I may not be able to get either one to come to my office. I suspect Margaret’s immune because when I was a little boy, I exposed her once myself.”
“But she should come in for the test,” I reminded him when he didn’t say anything for a moment.
“Oh, definitely,” he said, “but I rather doubt that she will.” He stood up to go.
“Why?” I asked.
“You ask far too many questions, Lillian,” Mother said, coming into the room.
“Oh, that’s all right,” said Dr. Turner, “I always asked a lot myself. It’s not getting the right answers you have to worry about, Lillian.”
Mother and Father followed him out, getting all the last-minute instructions and directions about me. Well, I’d probably be back for the last two or three days of school, anyway. I wished I could use the telephone, but that was absolutely forbidden. One thing, Beany wouldn’t have me to pester. I thought a moment. I was going to miss seeing Beany as much as Pat. I turned over and went to sleep.
That week I read through several of the Louisa May Alcott books I had and started on Robert Louis Stevenson. Mother said I read too much, but it helped the time pass more quickly. Pat wrote me a letter every day, and Beany wrote me twice. Beany began with “Hi, Jerk!!!” I liked Pat’s letter better. She wrote:
Dearest Friend, I guess we won’t sell Saturday because you’ll still be too swollen??? Ant Agnes is sure she’s immune to mumps, because she had both sides a long time ago. Ant Margaret doesn’t think she is immune, but she hasn’t gone for her test yet. She is too busy, she says. Maybe the first part of next week, though that may be too late for the shots if she isn’t imune. Ant Margaret isn’t going to Europe. She’s going to help with the straw hat theater here for the summer. We could help, but we’re too young, as usual. An instructor from the University up in Orchard City is going to be the director. Ant Margaret’s going to help him. I guess they hope everybody from all around will drive out here to see the plays. We can go if we ern enough money for tikets. I bet we can anyway, because I’ll just ask Ant Margaret for tikets if we don’t ern enough. I am dying to see you. Dr. Turner’s boy Philip is coming and boy are the girls getting excited. I hope you get well soon so we can be ready for all the things that are happening. Miss Fitch says you don’t have to worry about making anything up. I wish I had your brane.
Love and kisses,
On Wednesday of the next week Mother dropped into Dr. Turner’s office with me for my slip to go back to school. We sat in the outer office and waited. The nurse said it wouldn’t be very long, because there were only about three people before us.
Mother and I went over and sat by Pat’s Aunt Margaret. “Oh, Margaret,” Mother said, “I’m so sorry about Lillian exposing you. Are you having to get the shots?”
Margaret Diffendorf looked up from the magazine she was holding. She wore a brown tweed skirt with a beige sweater across her shoulders buttoned at her throat over a cream-colored blouse. She was really pretty, I thought, but she seemed so nervous. She put the magazine back on the table.
“Well, not really,” she said. “You see, I’m just coming in for the test. In fact, I’m not even sure I’ll wait. Agnes was so sure I’d be immune, but I thought perhaps I should stop by for the test.” She fumbled with a button on her sweater.
“I thought you were supposed to come in within three days after exposure,” I said, and then I could have bitten my tongue. I never was careful enough of what I said. Suppose I’d spoiled it.
“Yes, well, you see, I’m afraid I just never did get around to it. I guess this is all useless … I really shouldn’t wait. Been so busy with school on, you know.”
She turned to go, but Dr. Turner came out just then. “Margaret!” he said with real warmth. “Did you come at last? Oh, yes, about the mumps. Well, Lillian, be with you in a moment. You should have come sooner, Margaret. Oh, no, don’t go. Come in, and we’ll try the test anyway …”
Margaret hesitated again. “I guess it’s really too late …”
“No, it’s not too late,” the doctor said urgently.
“You can come in this room,” the nurse said to Mother and me, and we followed her in.
The doctor stopped in with us a moment, felt both sides of my neck and wrote out a slip. “You never looked better, Lillian,” he said. He seemed very happy, and his blue eyes sparkled.
“He’s certainly happy today,” Mother said when he slipped out again. Mother picked up her purse to go. We could hear him talking to Margaret.
“Just slip back the sleeve of your sweater, Margaret. We inject the fluid just under the skin in your arm. How have you been? Remember when I exposed you to the mumps? I never did return your Robinson Crusoe book.”
“Agnes wouldn’t let me take it back. She said it was contaminated.” Margaret laughed. “I really must be immune. I would have caught them from you, if I hadn’t been.”
“I’m sure you must be, too,” said Dr. Turner.
“Well,” said Mother dryly, “I suppose we can settle our bill with Miss Kennicott?”
“Oh, surely,” said Dr. Turner’s nurse. “I can take care of your bill.”
Mother hustled me along, but I could hear Margaret’s laugh coming clear and sure through the door and the warm, rich voice of Dr. Turner. The day seemed wonderful. Tomorrow I was going back to school. And as soon as I got home I was going to call Pat.
“We’ll have to hurry or your brother’s going to get home before we do and spoil his dinner by sampling everything he can find.”
Mother started the car, and I slid in beside her. I thought of asking if I couldn’t walk over to Pat’s, but I decided it was too close to dinner time. It was a beautiful spring afternoon. Tulips in all the front yards sparkled in all their color against the background of green grass and blue sky and golden sun. I got on the phone as soon as we got home.
“Pat? Pat, this is Lillian.” I held the phone away from my ear while she squealed. “I’m coming back to school tomorrow.” I held it away again while she squealed. Then we got down to business. There was everything that had been happening at school for us to discuss. I’d missed Church last Sunday.
“Lillian, you have to come to dinner next Sunday,” Pat said. “Ask your mother tonight. Yes, it’s still your turn. You couldn’t come last Sunday, so we just postponed your Sunday. I’ll hold the line while you ask her.”
I asked Mother. She was busy with the dinner in the kitchen. “Is it your turn, Lillian? Yes, I guess it’s your turn to go there. All right, dear. Now hurry up and get off the phone. Daddy will be coming in any minute, and he doesn’t want you to use that phone too long at one time.”
“Yes,” I told Pat, “I can come next Sunday. I’ll stop by for you in the morning. If Mother insists on driving me, we’ll pick you up just the same on the way to school. Oh, just because of the mumps, she’s making me be careful for a little while.”
“I’m glad I didn’t get them,” Pat said.
“Don’t be so dumb, Pat. You may come down with them any time for the next few weeks.”
“Oh, no!” Pat screamed.
Just then Daddy came in the front door so I hung up.
It seemed strange to go back to school for just the last three days of the year. We really felt bad school was letting out. Vacation was wonderful, but it was sad just the same to say goodbye to the teachers and school. Saturday we didn’t go selling because Mother wasn’t sure my strength was back. It was back, but Mother thought I’d better not, so I really looked forward to Sunday.
Sunday in Green Willows was wonderful. Couldn’t remember a day more sunny or warm or nice. Almost everybody in Green Willows went to Sunday School. Pat was already there, and we shared a book for the singing. I could hardly wait to get to my class.
“Dr. Turner’s here with his mother and Philip, his son,” Pat whispered. “Philip’s dreamy. He’s grown during the winter so he’s almost as tall as we are!”
After Sunday School we waited on the steps so I could get a good look at Philip, who had been going to school in his other grandmother’s town. I’d seen him many summers before, and, of course, when he was younger, he’d lived here all the time. But since his mother’s death, he had stayed mostly out of town with his maternal grandmother, who grieved so over her only daughter’s death. Dr. Turner’s mother was in a wheelchair most of the time.
“Hi, Phil,” Pat and I said almost in unison.
“Hi,” Philip said, and he hurried on to catch up with his father. Phil had nice blonde curly hair, but he didn’t seem very enthusiastic about Pat or me, I thought.
“It’s just because he doesn’t know us yet,” Pat said. “You wait, we’ll have him eating out of our hands. Come on, Daddy’s waiting.”
“Oh,” said Pat’s mother when we were halfway home, “are you coming to dinner today, Lillian?”
“Mother!” Pat said leaning forward on the car seat, “I asked you!”
“That’s right,” said Pat’s mother. “Well, we’re eating dinner up at Aunt Agnes’ today, if you girls don’t mind. I forgot all about your coming, Lillian, and promised her at Church.”
“Well,” I said, “do you think she’ll mind my coming up there?”
“Oh, no, no, no! They always have more than enough to eat. I’m sure they’ll love having you. I’ll call as soon as we get home to make sure. We’re not going to eat until two.”
Pat groaned. As usual we were starved, but I thought it would be fun to visit up there. We thumbed through Grimm’s Fairy Tales while we waited for Pat’s mother and father.
“Well, I think we can go now,” said Pat’s mother. “Aunt Agnes says to tell you you’re more than welcome, Lillian. They are expecting the director of the summer theater for dinner, also. Agnes said Margaret said he literally invited himself. I guess it’s lonely way out here for him.”
“There’s only the cast, the crew, and half the local people to keep him company out there every day,” Pat’s father said dryly. “He probably wanted a home-cooked meal.”
“Yes, that must be it,” said Pat’s mother.
We drove up the long driveway that circled around in back of the old Diffendorf house. There was an old carriage house in back that we loved to pay in. Pat’s father parked the car in front of it. Karen stood on the back steps smiling at us.
“Dinner ready?” Pat’s father wanted to know.
Karen laughed. “It is. Agnes is delivering the final blows. She won’t let us fuss much on Sunday, you know.”
“That’s the way it should be.” Pat’s father kissed her on the forehead, and Pat’s mother kissed her on the cheek. Margaret opened the back screen door. “Come in this way. You don’t need to walk all the way around to the front.”
We entered the tall, cool back hall. Pat’s father called hello at the kitchen door.
“Go in the front room; take care of them, Margaret. Our dinner’s been cooking while we were at Sunday school, so we’re almost ready to eat,” Aunt Agnes called from the kitchen.
We went up the hall toward the front of the house.
“Would you like to come upstairs and freshen up a bit?” Margaret stopped at the bottom of the stairs.
“I would,” I said. Everybody laughed, but I loved to see the high old-fashioned beds with their huge feather mattresses. Looking out of the high windows reminded me of princesses in castles.
We walked upstairs, and Pat’s mother left her purse on the bed. I put my sweater beside it.
“Say,” Pat’s father called, “I hear we’re not the only ones coming to dinner. What’s the director of those plays called?”
We went back down the stairs. “It’s Alder,” Margaret said. “John Alder. He’s very good, I understand. I’ve only met him once.”
Karen stood in front of the small fire they had built to take the chill off the room. “I think there’s someone at the front door now,” she said.
“Oh, yes,” said Margaret. She went into the front hall. “Just a small family dinner,” she was saying as she came into the room.
Pat and I stared at John Alden, fascinated. He was tall and dark and very nice looking, but he looked almost too normal to be a director. We had hoped he’d be wearing a beret and a monocle or something.
Margaret made the introductions. “I’ve already met Karen,” John said, looking at her gravely.
Karen was fumbling with the poker at the fireplace again. Her cheeks really looked warm from the heat, I thought.
“Oh, have you?” Margaret asked in surprise. “You didn’t mention that, did you, Karen?”
“Well,” said Karen, putting the poker down carefully, though it still clattered against the coal scuttle. “It was quite a while ago, really. I had a class from Dr. Alder in drama at college.”
“And then she promptly forgot me, I guess,” said John Alder, coming over by Karen to help settle the irons that were now rocking precariously.
Just then Agnes came to the door and, after she was introduced to the new director, we all went in to dinner.
Roast duck, my very favorite! I unfolded my napkin blissfully. There were definite advantages in having Pat as a best friend.