White, white, nothing but white—a foot and a half of white! Laura peered out the front window at the depressing blanket of snow that had shut down the city. Not a snowplow in sight, nor a person. Not even the letter carrier would make it today.
“Laura,” her mother called. “Come here, dear, please.” Laura gave a deep sigh and moped into the kitchen where her mother was taking fresh bread from the oven. “I want you to take this over to our new neighbors while it’s still warm. I heard that their boy has been ill. Perhaps your company would be appreciated.”
Laura plopped down at the table. “Oh, Mom, you don’t know him. He’s really stuck up.”
“Come on, you know that you’re going crazy couped up in here. He hasn’t been in our country for long. I bet he’s just shy. Anyway, I do want you to take the bread over.”
Grumbling as she donned her coat, Laura took the still-warm loaf and, kicking through the drifts, fought her way to the neighbors’ front door. Shivering against the biting wind, she poked the doorbell with her mittened hand. After what seemed like at least an hour, the door opened and a tall, thin woman smiled down at her.
“Why, you must be the Scott girl from next door. Do come in.”
Laura nodded and stepped in. Unwinding the scarf from her face, she handed the bread to the woman. “Mom said you might like some. It’s real fresh.”
“Oh, you are a dear to come out in this weather,” the woman replied, taking the package. “Now you must say hello to Thomas. The poor lad has been all alone with his eyes bandaged for three days now, and the wrap doesn’t come off till Saturday. I’m afraid he’s quite weary of my company and hasn’t really had time to make any friends at school yet.”
She’s talking so fast, she must be desperate, Laura thought. Before she could get out, “I really should get back,” Thomas’s mother had hung up her coat and was leading her into the front room, where the boy sat on the sofa, a huge blue and white afghan tucked over his lap. What Laura could see of his face was red and puffy with what might have been tears slipping from under the large white bandages.
“Someone to say hi, Thomas.”
As his mother quickly slipped out of the room, Laura wished that she could disappear too. After all, what do you say to a miserable kid you don’t even like.
“Who’s there?” he called out loudly.
“You really don’t have to shout,” Laura replied. “I’m not deaf. I’m Laura Scott. I’m in your class at school. Mom had me bring some fresh bread over. I guess you’re kind of lonesome, huh?”
“Not lonesome, just angry. I hate being stuck in the dark. You would too. It’s beastly. I want to go back and see the London parks. I just want to get out and walk anywhere!”
Laura looked closely at the unhappy boy in front of her. “I don’t know if your mom told you or not, but it snowed like crazy last night. There’s no place you could walk to, even without the bandages.”
“I just want to get out,” he muttered again. He sniffed, rubbing his nose on the back of his sleeve.
Laura sat down next to him. “I have an idea—have you ever been in the country, like to a lake in the summer?”
Thomas felt about for a tissue, then blew his nose. “I don’t … know what the country’s like here. I’ve seen little ponds in the parks, though. Why?”
“Well, do you think you’d like to go for a pretend walk with me. I know a super little path at the lake we go to in the summer, and since your eyes are already closed, it might be pretty easy for you to see in your mind the things I’ll describe. What do you say?”
Thomas sniffed again and leaned back. “I guess I could give it a go. Do you really want to bother?”
“Sure. I’ll close my eyes too. I’d love to take a summer walk myself right about now.” She leaned back against the sofa and tightly shut her eyes. “Ready?”
“Go for it!”
“This part may be a bit hard, but I think we’ll just make you the main character, even though I was the real one,” Laura began. “It’s real early. You’re on a small cot inside a one-room log cabin. You open your eyes and see your mom pushing sticks of wood into the stove top, then plunking the heavy metal cover over the hole. ‘Breakfast in ten minutes,’ she says. You jump out of bed onto the wooden floor, splash a bit of cold water on your face, and jump into shorts and a T-shirt.
“After a quick breakfast of cereal and cold juice, you run out onto the front porch and look down to the lake. It’s a wonderful, sunny, clear morning. The air is humming with insects, and the blue water has just a slight ripple from the breeze. The grass feels pleasantly damp under your feet as you run down to the lake and dip your fingers into the water. A very small frog jumps away and hides in the reeds growing close to the shore.
“A young boy in blue swim trunks runs up to you. He’s crying. You ask him what the matter is, and he says he’s been playing with a cat all week. It’s come around every day and spent all day with him, but it hasn’t come for two days now, and he’s afraid something has happened to it.”
“I do say I’ll help, don’t I?” Thomas broke in.
Laura smiled to herself. “Of course you do. You put your arm around his shoulders and ask where the cat usually can be found. He tells you that it likes to wander in the woods and around the boathouse. You take his hand and start down the trail along the water’s edge toward the creaky old dock, where the rowboats are tied. The sun is very hot now, and you grab a long tassel of grass, slip it from its stalk, and put it between your teeth.
“The boy takes you to the boathouse entrance, and you both go in. It’s dark and cool. Old boats with their white paint peeling are leaning against the walls. You notice a small stain on the floor in the corner. The boy sees it too. ‘It’s blood, isn’t it?’ he says. You say it might be—it’s the right color and is fairly fresh.”
“I bet the poor chappy is even more worried now,” said Thomas. “Actually I guess I am, too, aren’t I?”
“Yes. Before you’d thought there wasn’t really a problem, but now you’re not so sure. You take his hand again and start down the path into the woods. The path gets narrow, and the ferns brush against your legs. In some places you have to push the brambles away, and one snags your arm, leaving a nasty scratch.”
“But I don’t let it bother me, do I, Laura?”
“Of course not; you’re much too concerned with the boy and the lost cat. When you see an old building off the trail and up on a hill, you push through the underbrush to get to it. It looks like it had been some kind of storage place. There’s no door on the rusted hinges, so you can see inside.
“Because of the woods, it’s really dark inside. The boy calls out, ‘Here Muffin,’ and a low mew is heard from a corner. He rushes over. ‘Look,’ he cries, ‘she’s not hurt at all!’ And sure enough, there lies a cat with four tiny kittens snuggled against her. Off to the side you see a dead mouse she must have caught at the boathouse and brought here to eat before the births. ‘That mouse explains the stain,’ you say.”
“I’ll be bound the lad is really happy,” Thomas prodded.
Laura opened her eyes and saw him leaning back on the pillows, a smile on his face. “You bet,” she said, “for it turns out that the guy who runs the boathouse owns the cat. He promises the boy one of the kittens when it’s big enough, and asks you if you want one.”
“What do I say?” Thomas asked, turning eagerly toward Laura.
“Actually,” Laura answered with a little laugh, “you, or rather I, said, ‘sure,’ and Mom said it was OK, so now I have a super little gray kitten named Smoky. I could bring him over if you’d like me to.”
“Oh, that would be smashing. Might you come this afternoon? Mum will fix us a lovely tea with biscuits (cookies) and hot chocolate.” Thomas then added shyly, “If you wanted, I could take you on a walk … in London. Would you like that?”
Laura could think of nothing she’d like better.