A spoiled orphan comes to live with the Austins, and the whole family is affected.
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
September 01, 2008
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Excerpt from Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle
Meet the Austins
The Telephone Call
It started out to be a nice, normal, noisy evening. It was Saturday, and we were waiting for Daddy to come home for dinner. Usually he's home early Saturday, but this day he had a maternity case, and babies don't wait for office hours. Uncle Douglas was up for the weekend. He's Daddy's younger brother--ten years younger than Daddy--and he's an artist and lives in New York, and we all love him tremendously.
Mother had a standing rib roast cooking in the oven, because it's Uncle Douglas's favorite, and the kitchen smelled wonderful. Uncle Douglas and John were out in the old barn working on John's space suit, but the rest of us were in the kitchen. I don't suppose we're what you would call an enormous family, Mother and Daddy and the four of us children and the animals, but there are enough of us to make a good kind of sound and fury. Mother had music on, Brahms's Second Piano Concerto, kind of loud to drown us out. Suzy was performing anappendectomy on one of her dolls. She was doing this at the same time that she was scraping carrots, so the carrot scraper was a scalpel as well as a scraper.
Rob was supposed to be helping her, both with the appendectomy and the carrots, but he'd become bored, so he was on the floor with a battered wooden train making loud train noises, and Colette, our little gray French poodle, was barking at him and joining in the fun. Mr. Rochester, our Great Dane, was barking at one of the cats, who was trying to hide behind the refrigerator. I was being angelically quiet, but this was because I was doing homework--a whole batch of math problems. I was sitting near the fireplace and the fire was going and I was half baked (that's for sure, John would say) on one side, but I was much too cozy to move.
"Clamps," Suzy said loudly to an invisible operating-room nurse. "Retractors."
"Choo choo choo chuff chuff chuff," Rob grunted.
The Brahms came to an extra-loud part and everything was happy and noisy and comfortable.
Mother opened the oven door and poked at the potatoes roasting around the beef. "Vicky," she said, "why don't you go somewhere a little quieter to finish your homework?"
"Do I have to?" I asked.
"It's up to you," Mother said. "Suzy and Rob, please keep it down to a quiet roar."
Then the telephone rang.
Heaven knows, with Daddy being a doctor, we're used to the telephone. It rings all night as well as all day. We have two separate phone numbers, and when you call one it rings only athome, and when you call the other it rings both in Daddy's office and at home. John and I are the only ones allowed to answer the office phone, but when it's the house phone the younger ones run for it, too.
This was the house phone, and Suzy dropped her doll in the middle of the operation and ran. Rob shrieked, "It's my turn! I'll get it!" It really was his turn, but Suzy kept on running and Rob shrieked louder, especially because she got to the phone before he did. Mother turned down the volume on the record player and shouted at Mr. Rochester to stop barking and told Rob that he could answer next time, and Suzy said in a breathless voice, "Hello, this is Suzy Austin, who is this, please?" There was a moment's silence; then she said, more loudly, "But who is speaking, please?" and then she held the receiver out to Mother, saying, "Mother, it's for you, and I don't know who it is. I thought it was Aunt Elena but she didn't say hello to me or anything, so it couldn't be."
Mother went to the phone and I put my math book down on the floor and Mother glared at me and said, "Be quiet, Vicky!" as though I were hammering or something, and I knew something was wrong.
Then Mother said, "Oh, Elena, oh no!" and it was the strangest thing, looking at her, to see her get white beneath her summer brown. And then she said, "What can we do?" and then she was quiet for a long time, and then she said, "Oh, Elena, darling--" as though she were going to say something more, but she didn't say anything more, and then she hung up.
She stood there by the phone without saying anything, and Suzy said, "Mother, what is it? What is it?" and Mr. Rochesterbegan to growl, and Rob said, in the terribly serious voice he gets when he thinks something important is going on, "Mr. Rochester, I think you'd better be quiet."
Mother said, "Vicky, go get Doug."
It wasn't dark yet, because we were still on daylight saving, but it was cold, windy cold, the way it gets around the time of the first frosts, and I ran across the brittle grass to the barn, shivering; I wasn't sure whether I was shivering because I was cold or because something awful had happened.