By Deone R. Sutherland
Synopsis: Lillian and her friend Patricia are very much interested in the affairs of Pat’s three unmarried aunts – Agnes, Margaret, and Karen. The two older sisters are schoolteachers, and Karen is preparing to follow the same profession. Lillian and Pat, however, cannot understand why Margaret should not marry her neighbor Dr. Turner, who is a former suitor of hers and now a widower. Lillian and Pat and Pat’s parents are invited to the Diffendorf home for dinner. Another guest is John Alder, the new director of the summer theater in Green Willows. It appears that John and Karen have met before.
Pat’s father carved the meat, and Pat and I helped serve and clear the table. Karen was sitting next to John Alder, and she kept trying to get up to help, but Agnes said we could do it fine. I don’t think she talked to the director at all, though he said two or three things to her that I couldn’t hear. Margaret said that yes, she’d hear about Dr. Turner’s son coming home for good now. Yes, she had meant to be at Sunday School. This was the first Sunday she’d missed in she didn’t know how long. Yes, it was certainly nice that they were going to be together all the time now. Two winters apart were too much even though they did visit at Christmas and in the summers. No, she hadn’t heard whom they were going to get for a steady housekeeper. Well, it was partly that Gwennie’s mother hadn’t been able to part with the boy after she’d lost her daughter. Yes, everyone could understand wanting to hold onto something that was Gwennie’s. Gwennie had never had good health from the time she married, Agnes said. The conversation went on and on while we ate. Pat and I didn’t say anything, but we did prick up our ears when they talked about the plays that were going to be presented at the straw-hat theater that summer.
“I’m trying to persuade Karen to come down and take a part, but she won’t co-operate,” said John Alder to Margaret.
“Oh, I’m afraid I’ve too much to do with my music this summer,” Karen said hurriedly. “Drama is Margaret’s field, really, not mine.”
“You were just passing the time away when you took those drama classes last winter?” John asked lightly.
“Yes,” said Karen in a low voice. “That is, I was filling hours. I really enjoyed them, you know. I’m going to be teaching this winter. I have lots of obligations, Dr. Alder, that I have to repay.”
“What obligations?” Agnes asked. “You certain have not. You’re going into teaching because you love it, Karen. You don’t have anything to repay.”
John Alder broke his roll. “Why don’t you come back for your Master’s Degree, Karen? Didn’t you say once that’s what you wanted to do?”
“Well, I do, but after I’ve saved enough money …”
“There are teaching fellowships,” John Alder persisted.
Pat’s mother looked up. “Oh, are you interested in going on to school, Karen? Daddy’s business is doing so well now, we can repay Agnes and help you a little, too.”
“Please,” said Karen, “I really don’t know what I want to do now. I thought I knew what I had to do, or ought to do. Now I don’t even know what I want to do …” She stopped helplessly.
“For goodness sake, Karen, do talk sensibly,” Agnes said. “Mashed potatoes, Margaret?”
“Yes, I’ll get them.” Margaret got up and left the room. She brought back the bowl filled again with whipped potatoes with butter yellowing the dips. “Do what you want to do, Karen,” Margaret said. “That’s the best way in the long run.”
“Of course,” said Agnes. “That’s what we all do. You’ll make a wonderful teacher, Karen. You have no idea the satisfaction one can get out of teaching children.”
“It must almost compare with teaching one’s own children,” said John Alder.
“Well, I wouldn’t know about that,” said Agnes, looking at him in some surprise, “but it is a very satisfying profession, as you should know yourself.”
“Oh, I quite agree,” said John Alder.
After dinner we sat at the long dining-room table cracking soft-shelled walnuts and eating them. Pat’s father had leaned back comfortably in his chair. At last Aunt Agnes said we really should go into the parlor. Karen could play a little music for them. Pat’s mother and Aunt Agnes and Aunt Margaret cleared the table. Karen, after one short selection, hovered between the kitchen and dining room.
John Alder came to the door of the dining room. “If you won’t play any more, Karen, won’t you show me the garden. I’m really very interested in seeing the grounds around here.”
“Are there enough helping in the kitchen?” Karen asked.
“More than enough,” Margaret said. “Run along.”
“I’d love to, then,” Karen agreed. “The gardens are interesting to us because we have kept the original patterns and flower beds as outlined by our great-grandparents …”
Pat and I went out and sat on the back porch. We were too full to move. Why did dishes always follow every meal? But no one asked us to help.
“What do you say we walk in front and see if Phil’s out in his yard?” Pat asked.
“Okay,” I said.
We went around the corner of the house. Karen was disappearing up a path toward the little wooden gate that led to the orchard. John Alder followed, almost touching her arm.
“See,” he was saying, “all your arguments, your imaginary obligations, everything disappeared like magic at dinner. Why are you so fearful about admitting to yourself …?”
His words disappeared into lower tones when he caught sight of us. We went up the front walk.
The Turner house was very similar to the old Diffendorf house. It was large, with rounded cupolas and long porches. Trees crowded the yards. No one seemed to be out. We crossed the street and walked up and down the front ditchbank. There was a bench swing under one of the trees. We waited, balancing ourselves on the little bridge across the ditch.
“Maybe he’s taking a nap,” Pat said.
“A boy our age taking a nap?” I scoffed. “Let’s try the swing.” We walked into the yard to the side of the house and began swinging.
“Well, hi,” said Dr. Turner, coming out of the French windows on the side of the house. “Have you seen Phil?”
“No,” we said hopefully. “Is he out here some place?”
“He came out with his book a few minutes ago. I was going to talk with him, but I got called to the phone. Phil!” he cupped his hands.
“Over here,” Phil said. He got up from behind the lilac bushes. “I was just resting until you came out.” He didn’t look at us. “I wonder where all the fellows are?”
“Well, there comes Mike now,” said Dr. Turner.
“Hey,” yelled Mike, wheeling his bike over to the ditch. “I came down to see you for a while.”
“Swell,” said Phil. He looked at us uncertainly. We stood our ground.
“Why don’t we go on up to my room, Mike? We can talk all right up there.” They ran into the house.
“I’m sure he’ll get to be a little more civilized before long,” Dr. turner said to us.
“Oh, that’s all right,” said Pat. “All the boys our age are like that now.”
“Well,” said Dr. Turner, “I’m glad you understand anyway.” He looked over toward the Diffendorf house. “Are all your aunts home now, Pat?”
“Yes,” said Pat. “We just had dinner. John Alder came to dinner.”
“Oh, yes, he’s the new director of the theater for this summer, isn’t he?” Dr. Turner broke off a twig from the lilac tree. “I really ought to check on Margaret’s arm. Come on, and I’ll walk you kids back.”
We went across the street to the Diffendorfs’.
We went around to the back of the house. I couldn’t see any sign of Karen or John Alder. Dr. Turner opened the back door, and we proceeded him into the kitchen.
“Hi,” he said. “Give me another dishtowel, and I’ll help.”
Pat’s Aunt Margaret had both hands deep in the dishwater suds. Everyone laughed, but Pat’s Aunt Margaret didn’t turn around after the first quick glance at Dr. Turner.
“We’re almost through,” Agnes said. “There’s a sliver of pie left if you want it.”
“She remembers how I used to come begging slivers of pie years ago,” Dr. Turner said.
Agnes untied her apron. “It’s too long altogether since you came for pie, Mark Turner. You shouldn’t keep so busy.”
“Well, lots of things happen with the years. But your pie hasn’t changed. The best I ever tasted.”
“Well, you don’t have to eat standing up,” Pat’s mother said. “Sit there at the table.”
“Oh, I’m all right.” Dr. Turner cut another piece. “I’ll mix business with pleasure. I’ll take a look at your arm, Margaret, when you’re through with the dishes.”
“I was going to call the nurse about it tomorrow or this afternoon,” Margaret said. “I’m sure I’m immune; there’s a very strong reaction.”
“My word,” said Agnes. “I forgot your arm. Wash yourself off and go sit outside and rest a bit …”
“Oh, how silly. It’s nothing at all,” Margaret said hurriedly. “Besides, I’m almost finished.”
“So am I with the pie,” said Dr. Turner. “Come outside, Margaret, where the light is better.”
Margaret washed her hands in the little bathroom by the kitchen. Dr. Turner and Pat and I went out on the back porch and waited. In a moment she came out the door. “Really, I’m sure everything’s just fine. We have nothing to worry about.”
Dr. Turner took her hand and examined her arm. “You’re quite right, Margaret. You’re immune to mumps. But I hope you’re not going to be immune to my friendship any more.”
Pat and I walked around the house again. Maybe Phil and Mike had come out by now and needed a couple of My Girl Fridays.
Pat’s father came out on the front porch. “Got to get started back, girls. We need a little time to get ready for Church and do a little reading. Agnes and the girls need some quiet, too. Did you have sweaters?”
We ran up the stairs to get my sweater that Mother had made me wear, though it was far too warm for one. We stood at the high narrow windows. “‘The Lady of Shalott’ or should I say Two Ladies of Shalott?” I asked, looking out of the window with Pat.
“I didn’t think you were such a romantic,” Margaret said, coming into the room. “Your father wants you girls to hurry.”
“I’m not,” I said. “I’d much rather bounce just once on that feather bed than be a dozen Ladies of Shalott at castle windows.”
“I’ve thought of something. Why don’t you and Pat come and spend a night or two with us during your vacation, and you can bounce a few times on the feather bed in the guest room? Agnes might not like you bouncing all over her bed.”
“Oh,” Pat squealed, “can we really come? Lillian and I both at the same time?”
“Surely,” said Margarete. “We’ll name the day. Let’s see. It can’t be next week end, but how about two weeks from Friday? No, the plays are starting. We’ll make it three weeks; everything in the theater should be running smoothly by then. You can go to the play on Friday night and spend Friday and Saturday nights with us. Is that too far ahead for you to remember?”
“Oh, no,” we both said emphatically. We were going to a play, too!
Pat’s mother called from the stairs. “Girls, we really must be going.”
We all went down the stairs together. Dr. Turner was talking to Karen and John Alder.
“I’d love to give you all a ride to Church with me,” Dr. Turner was saying. “I’ve got to go home and slick Phil up some. We can call for you in about an hour. Is that all right with you, Margaret?”
Margaret was on the stairs behind us. “Yes,” she said, “that’s quite all right with me. We’d love a ride.”
“I’ll leave my car here, then,” said John Alder. “I’m sure the five of us can get in the same car. This will make my first Sunday evening in your ward a pleasant one, though I’ve never hesitated about going alone. That was the first thing I’d look up when I was away to school.”
Karen laughed. They’ll rope you in on a fireside, John, and I don’t know what all. We have a celebrity in our midst.”
“I’m not,” John Alder said.
“We’re not going to make it unless we leave right now,” Pat’s father said firmly, so we all followed him at a trot to the car, shouting our goodbyes and thanks. We could hardly wait to get into the car to tell Pat’s mother about our invitation for coming to stay with Margaret.
“How kind of her. I’ll talk to Margaret later about it and to your mother, Lillian. They have always done so much for Pat and us,” Pat’s mother said. “You’ve got to start repaying Agnes for all the help you’ve had, Arthur.”
“I will. I’ll make arrangements tomorrow,” Pat’s father said. “They’re a wonderful group of girls. Too bad none of them ever married. All of them pretty in their own way. Agnes is maybe a trifle firm, but there’s nothing wrong with Margaret’s and Karen’s looks.”
“Well, Arthur, you can hardly call Karen an old maid. She’s just getting out of college. And just because she’s going to teach a year doesn’t mean – ”
“Now, Mother, look what it’s meant to Agnes and Margaret,” said Pat’s father. “Of course, it was Margaret’s own fault.”
“We’d better discuss this later – ” Pat’s mother nodded her head toward the back seat. “Look at the forsythia at Sister Daly’s, girls. Isn’t that lovely?”
“Yes,” we answered in a chorus, a trifle disappointed in the change of subject. We leaned back against the seat. Would three weeks take forever to pass, we asked each other? It was so hard to wait.