Chapter 27 An Invitation
The boys' mothers did indeed have supper waiting at the Killman's residence. Dr. O'Shaughnessy was duly invited in and treated as an honored guest and an old friend, which he was. He swore both boys' parents to secrecy and told them the whole story. Dr. O'Shaughnessy explained that Mr. Lynnsehn was really quite harmless and it could not happen again as all munitions at Azavilla were now under lock and key.
At first the boys' parents were quite shocked that their sons had been shot at, then relieved at the doctor's reassurances that the boys were all right, and finally, resigned that there was no real harm done, save to the boat. Harry later found that Granpap's boat was back at the dock repaired and repainted, looking brand new, within two days following their adventure.
Early Tuesday morning a Chinese man delivered a formal letter of abject apology to each boy from Madame Zeguenia Hildebrune Lynnsehn. In the letters she invited the boys to dine with her and Dr. O'Shaughnessy at Azavilla the following Thursday evening, and she urged them to bring along whom ever they wished to complete a party of six. Dr. O'Shaughnessy again assured the boy's parents that they would indeed be safe. Harry and Jimmy had first asked their mothers if they wanted to go. Both ladies most regretfully declined as Thursday was the final meeting before summer hiatus of L.A.M.P.; the Ladies Auxiliary Mission of the Presbytery, of which they were co-chairwomen. Instead, the boys invited Mr. Mac, and because Miss Mel was in New York, they thought it would be nice to invite their old friend Mr. Edwin to go with them. He was delighted to be asked to go, saying that he had always admired Zeguenia Hildebrune.
Dr. O'Shaughnessy agreed to collect all of them in his big Pierce Arrow, and at 5:45 they pulled up to the barrier at the entrance to Azalea Island. Mr. Mac, Mr. Edwin, and Jimmy waited in the car as Harry once again did the honors with the key boxes that activated the drawbridge and the huge gate. Mr. Edwin was amazed that the island even existed and further intrigued at the measures taken to get on it. It was Mr. Mac's turn to be astounded when the car crossed the drawbridge, passed through the gate and turned the corner.
“What an incredibly odd house!” he exclaimed. Dr. O'Shaughnessy once again explained the pedigree of the mansion as they pulled up under the Porte-cochere of the Georgian side of the house, there to be greeted by a now smiling Tung-pau. As the doctor shut off the motor the Chinese man spoke.
“Greetings.” he said in carefully pronounced English, “It is much honor to once again see you, friend Docktor O-Shaughnessee.” he bowed and turned to Jimmy and Harry, bowing again; “Many pardons I must ask of you Mr. Killman and Mr. Day. Many thanks I must also give for assistance of Madame Lynnsehn in difficulty. We are in your debt.” another deep bow. To Mr. Mac and Mr. Edwin he said, “Welcome to you gentlemen as friends of esteemed friends. Would you all please to follow humble servant Tung-pau?”
Madame Zeguenia Hildebrune Lynnsehn received them in the formal sitting room with the graceful arched windows which overlooked the St. Johns river and the distant handful of buildings that was downtown Jacksonville in 1924. She sat in a wing backed chair in the center of the room that seemed to accentuate her petite form, the chair taking on the illusion of a queen's elegant throne.
Tung-pau completed the allusion by approaching the royal seat and rendering a deep bow announcing “Madame, the guests are arrived.” Jimmy expected to hear the resonance of an oriental gong to usher them into the presence. Jimmy wasn't watching anyone but Madame Hildebrune. Harry tapped Jimmy on the arm and gestured toward Mr. Edwin, who had a most peculiar look on his face. As they all approached the center of the room, Madame Hildebrune stood.
On her face was an expression of incredulity, her eyes fixed on Mr. Edwin. She then dumbfounded them all by exclaiming: “Johnny? Dear Johnny Edwin is that you? After all these many, many years?”
Amazingly, Mr. Edwin replied “Zee-zee Kelly? How could it be? You're supposed to be Zeguenia Hildebrune! How could you be a famous opera star when you're sweet little Zee-zee Kelly? This just can't be so!” he cried as they threw their arms around each other.
None of them had ever seen Mr. Edwin so excited. Turning to his friends he said “We were together from grammar all the way to high school. Why, we were Valentine sweethearts! Jimmy! Harry! How did you know?” the boys grinned and shrugged a denial.
He turned to the doctor saying “Aubrey, did you have something to do with this?” who in turn had to deny concocting a scheme to bring the two together. It was the happiest the boys had seen Mr. Edwin since before his wife passed. All at once, instead of the dry formal affair the dinner party had promised to be, there was a feeling of warmth and merriment.
The very stately and somber Madame Hildebrune now insisted that everyone call her Zee-zee saying with a wistful smile, “That's who I really am anyway! Only those close to me call me Zee-zee and you-all must, too. Now, let us go in to dinner and afterward allow me show you around this rather quaint cottage my gran'daddy built, whom I loved but who had more money than taste, and which my beloved mother named, who had taste and a sense of propriety when she named it for the Azaleas which do set this island ablaze with gorgeous color in the early spring each year.”
Zee-zee seemed to very much enjoy sharing tasty treats from all over the world, each of which began another fascinating tale about the places she and Lars had been making it, indeed, a delicious and lively feast. Jimmy, who had felt pity for this woman realized that he really did like her. She obviously loved her ailing husband, but seeing Mr. Edwin after so many years seemed to transform her into the charming lady she once was before she had so little to smile about. It seemed to Jimmy that her formerly clipped and formal speech had suddenly acquired a lovely genuine Southern lilt, too.