Betty Parker, now in her forties, had been living in this street for a good number of years. A distinctive character of a woman, she carried her buxom figure majestically. She had left school at a very early age and, as result, she could neither read nor write.
Her family consisted of Bill, her small-framed husband and a brood of five small children whose ages ranged from six months to twelve years. She could outshout any market trader or anybody else for that matter. This notwithstanding, Betty had a heart of gold, always at the front to help anybody in need of any assistance whatsoever.
Mary Simmons was a different woman altogether. For one thing, she was older, past her sixtieth year, and a dedicated spinster. She was an ex-school teacher having dedicated her life to teach the children of the community at the town’s primary and later secondary schools.
As all dedicated teachers everywhere, she had remained a teacher at heart, even after her retirement. Everybody loved Mary, not only because she was often sought by her neighbours to fill in their various forms and read and write their letters, but also because she was a genuine woman through and through.
Although Betty Parker and Mary Simmons appeared to be so different from each other, their willingness to help others and their cordial nature were similar. They had become firm friends since Mary came to live here some ten years ago.
Betty frequently called at Mary’s place for a fresh cup of tea and to recount news and views as well as the gossip going round the neighbourhood on this, that and the other. But during these visits she also brought two or three of her children along with her. Mary, childless and family-starved, loved these children especially Dennis who, though a bit of ragamuffin who everybody called Dennis the Menace because of his many exploits, had a genial and endearing nature.
One fine day, while Mary was reading the latest Daniele Steel novel, she heard a knock on her front door. It was a hard impatient knock, so she laid down her book and hurried up to open the door. It was Betty with a face as gloomy as an English dark night in winter, holding the youngest of her brood in her arms. “I have been summoned to go to Court Mary! To court!!”
Mary ushered her inside, made her sit down on the chair and tried to calm her nerves as much as possible. “Let’s make a cup of tea, then we’ll see about the problem and what to do about it, shall we Bett?” Bett would never say no to a cup of freshly-made tea, though today there was a more urgent matter to see to.
“It’s my son Dennis, the eldest one; he’s got me into trouble once again; I’ll have to tell my Bill to give him a hiding when he returns from work this evening; he needs to learn his lesson you know,” said Betty obviously agitated and in a state of shock.
Mary did not want to show Betty much sympathy as that would only serve to embarrass her. “But what’s it all about Bett? You haven’t told me why you are going to Court yet,” interjected Mary as she served tea.
“The inspector came to warn me last week that next time I’ll have to be brought to court. Like some criminal! What a cheek!” said Betty as furious as a Spanish bull in front of a matador.
Mary still did not know what the demented soul was going on about. She could not fathom it out at all. So she insisted. “Bett, you’ve mentioned ‘Dennis’, ‘Inspector’ and ‘Court’; what in heaven’s name is it all about? Tell me clearly.”
Bett looked at Mary with a surprised expression. “My Dennis must have missed school again, the rascal. The inspector had warned me that if he does it again, I’ll be dragged to court. That is it Mary. As clear as crystal is it not?”
“But who asked you to go to court Bett? Did the inspector call again to give you the summons for a court hearing?” asked Mary.
“Here, here, see the letter. The postman gave it to me just now. He seemed to sympathize with me, bless him. The school inspector had told me that my boy had missed school. He must have done it again. Now it’s court you see. Court Mary! Like a criminal! What shall I do? I have never been to court in all my life. What shall I say?” answered Betty.
Mary knew how serious the matter was. Her thoughts went back to parents who were slack in seeing their children to school. The authorities took an exceptionally tough line when it comes to children missing their lessons.
But Mary also knew that Betty’s son Dennis was not a bad boy. And he was very intelligent too. He always impressed her whenever he came to her house to assist him with his homework. Maybe he was laid astray by some of his school friends.
Betty sat quiet for a while searching Mary’s thoughtful face. “He’ll not listen to a word I say. Now he’s brought me to this trouble. My Bill will punish him. I’ll make sure of that. I will! Here, read the letter Mary, read it and tell me what to do. Will you come with me to the court? I’ve never been there you know, what shall I say, tell me?”
Mary took the letter from her hands. It had the school mark on the envelope. She opened it and withdrew the official-looking document. She cast a speedy eye along the wording and with each line her heart turned somersaults.
“Mary what is it? Tell me when I have to go?” said Betty now very anxious. Mary gathered her composure and smiled at Bett, a wide grin on her face.
“It’s from the school all right Bett; it says that young Dennis has passed his exams with flying colours and that he has been awarded a scholarship to attend the secondary level at St. Martin’s next term. It says that he’s a very intelligent boy and that the school authorities have congratulated you on Dennis’s success.”
Betty was stunned, could not believe what Mary was saying. She got up swiftly from her chair, embraced her in her arms and said “My Oh my! Thank you Mary! Thank you Dennis! Thank you Lord!”