Dinner Guests


When my sister’s in a good mood, she calls me James Herriott. That’s because I’m going to be a veterinarian.

My name is really Jeannette, but everybody calls me Jetty. I’ll be twelve on my next birthday—small but strong for my age.

Mom and Sis and I live in a big old house at the edge of Bone Hollow. There are lots of farms around here. Most of the farmers are so busy they don’t like to fuss with an animal that needs a lot of care.

Somebody brought me an orphan lamb when we moved here a few years ago, and I raised it. Now anything is apt to turn up on our doorstep.

Just this spring I was keeping a lonesome cat, Gorgeous George, in the basement while its owners were on vacation. A runt pig named Pigwig was living in a cardboard box in the storeroom. In another box were twin orphan lambs so small that I called them Minutes.

Mom works long hours at the clinic and doesn’t mind my pets as long as I keep everything clean and the animals out from under her feet. Sis is another story.

One evening I was sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework while some milk for Pigwig’s eight o’clock feeding was warming. Mom and Sis were doing dishes. They were having a discussion about some dumb dinner Sis wanted to have. It was to impress the parents of her boyfriend, Ted, who were coming to visit.

The discussion woke up Pigwig. He started to squeal, and Sis let out a shriek about as loud. “That kid and her weird menagerie. I can’t invite the Austins to this—this zoo!”

About that time Gorgeous George started to yowl, and the uproar woke the Minutes. It took Mom and me a while to get them all quieted down.

The next day Mom had a talk with me. “You know, Jetty, your sister’s right. It’s her home, too, and it’s only fair that she should be able to entertain her friends here without embarrassment.”

“OK, OK,” I muttered. “What do you want me to do?”

“Find another place for your pets that evening.”

“But, Mom,” I persisted. “I can’t put them just anywhere! It’s too cold outside. They could get sick.”

“Jeannette, with your ingenuity I’m sure you can find a comfortable place.” When Mom starts using big words in that tone of voice, I don’t argue.

Finding a place wasn’t easy. I had to promise to give Betsy Lewis, my best friend, my very favorite record before she finally said she’d watch the animals—on the condition that her mother approved. Mrs. Lewis agreed to let Betsy keep Pigwig and the Minutes in a heated room off their garage.

Gorgeous George’s owners were back home by then so it looked like everything would work out. Sis was all excited. You’d have thought the president of the United States was coming to dinner.

I had just come back from taking Pigwig and the Minutes over to Betsy’s house when a car pulled into the driveway.

Mom and Sis weren’t home from work yet, and I was trying to decide whether I should let anyone in when I heard Curt Marsh calling, “Jetty, are you home?” He and his wife, Brenda, are good friends of ours.

When I opened the door, Curt came charging in carrying something in his arms. “Jetty, am I glad you’re here! I’m taking Brenda to the hospital. Moonbeam’s calf has pneumonia so I brought it over. We knew you’d take care of it.”

I just stood there. I mean I couldn’t even stutter!

“What’s the matter, Jet? Is something wrong?” Curt looked so worried and upset, I couldn’t tell him.

“It’s—it’s OK,” I finally stammered. “I’ll get a box.” And I rushed to find one so he wouldn’t see my face.

“Thanks, Jetty. We knew we could count on you,” he called as he hurried back to his car.

I looked at the calf. It was the size of a large dog and pure white with soft silky hair and long dark lashes. Its nose was bright pink. I promptly named it Snow White. It looked completely helpless stretched out on its side, breathing hard.

I didn’t have much time to get it out of sight before the party. I carefully placed the calf in a box. Just then Mom came rushing in, so I quickly shoved it to the back of the big coat closet.

“Hurry now,” she said. “Change your clothes and set the table.”

Everything looked super nice by the time the Austins arrived. Sis looked really neat too. She was so happy she was all sparkly.

I was eating my second piece of chicken when I noticed Sis was awfully quiet. Mrs. Austin was looking our house over like she was at a yard sale and couldn’t find anything worth buying. Mr. Austin was talking about the business he owned and how he thought Ted was wasting his time in such a small town. Ted was just sitting there. He wasn’t even holding Sis’s hand like he usually does, and I felt kind of sorry for her.

About then I thought I heard the sound of feet slipping and sliding. Suddenly through the closet door staggered the wobbly and bawling white calf. I froze for a moment.

Mrs. Austin screamed as her mink stole slid off the calf’s back and onto the floor. I had one glimpse of the stunned look on my mother’s face before I was out of my chair and dragging the calf out of the room.

The dinner party was over. I heard my mother and sister apologizing. Ted left with his parents.

Sis was crying. “Where did that thing come from?” she wailed. “Mom, I thought you told Jetty—no animals!”

“I did, and I have no more idea than you where she got it, but I intend to find out.” My mother’s voice told me I was in real trouble.

I was dragging myself out of the storeroom when the telephone rang. Sis answered it. When she turned from the phone, she had a funny look on her face. “That was Curt Marsh. Brenda had a seven-pound baby girl and they are going to name her Jeannette because Jetty is always so helpful—like tonight with that prize calf of theirs.”

Later I heard Sis say, “The Austins really are pretty stuffy, aren’t they?”

Mom said something I couldn’t hear. Then Sis giggled. “Only Jetty’s pets get to wear mink stoles,” she said. Then they both cracked up laughing!

I mean, who can understand grown-ups?

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn