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A Time To Every Purpose XII
Continuation of our Tuesday serial
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
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 Chapter XII

As soon as I came to the top of the broad staircase, it was immediately obvious which room Miranda meant. I opened the door to the left of the head of the stairs and entered a dark chamber that smelled of pipe tobacco. It was an austere room that I would have taken for a man's study, except for the single bed under the draped window. Aside from the bed, the room contained a small. dark writing desk that looked like it was made of mahoganny, a matching chair, a tall bookshelf, and a dresser with three drawers. There was only one closet. When I opened it, I found it empty except for a step stool, a scattering of boxes on the floor, and, high overhead on a shelf that I knew I could barely reach even with the step stool, a cigar box and a pile of notebooks that looked like journals of some sort.
I was curious about the contents of both boxes and journals and considered having a quick look in the boxes before clambering up on the stool to reach the cigar box. However, I reminded myself that Anita and Miranda were waiting for me, so I bridles my curiosity about the boxes, pulled out the step stool, opened it, and placed it strategically so I could reach the cigar box. I'd managed to get up on the third and highest step of the stool and was stretching to reach the cigar box, when I heard an angry yell.
"Hey, what the hell do you think you are doing? Get out of my father's closet!"
I almost fell off the stool but managed to grab the cigar box and make my way down to floor level before turning to face the source of the yell. It was Ellen.
"Your mother asked me to retrieve this box of old pens for her," I said as calmly as my rapid heartbeat allowed. "You startled me."
"You shouldn't have been in there. You have no right… She has no right…" Ellen sat down hard on the bed and looked as if she was about to burst into tears.
I sat down on the desk chair so as not to be towering over her. When she'd collected herself, I smiled are reassuringly as I could. "Why don't you tell me what's wrong?" I offered and immediately wished I hadn't.
"Why?" she demanded. "Why should I tell you anything? I know you think I'm a bad mother and probably a bad person too.
"Joanna told me you don't approve of how I'm raising Anita."
I shook my head. "I was concerned when we found Anita alone in the store, but I can see that you have a good support network," I tried to placate her.
"And you think I'm stupid too for staying with my husband," she went on as if I hadn't spoken. "Well, just because my mother rejected my father doesn't mean I have to follow in her footsteps!"
I had the feeling I was hearing more than I wanted to, but Ellen was not to be stopped.
"Do you think he wanted to move in here? No, but she kicked him out, just because she found out about Brenda. Well, Brenda wasn't the real reason, she just wanted him under her thumb, and he wouldn't bend."
Ellen grimaced. "I liked Brenda, but mother said that if there was one, there'd be others. Well, if there were others, it was her fault. She drove him to them with her stupid illness and her demands."
I tapped on the cigar box, wishing I could get downstairs to Anita and Miranda. But I couldn't just get up and walk out. After all, I'd offered to listen to Ellen.
"Everyone talks about dad's accident," she went on in a teary voice. "Well, he was a great driver. He could drive eighty on a wet, dirt road and not even spatter his windshield. There is no way he'd have hit a tree on a perfectly clear, summer afternoon. His accident was no accident. He'd just had enough."
I stopped tapping and cleared my throat loudly. Ellen looked over at me.
"Ellen," I said softly, "do you really believe that your father killed himself?"
She nodded. "And I'm afraid that if mother makes me leave Kevin, he'll kill himself too. Or someone else."
I was in water over my head and didn't know what to say.
"Mrs. Privett is right, you know, even if she does quote the Bible so much that I sometimes have to tune her out. You shouldn't judge people unless you know the whole story, which you didn't did you?"
Though I knew the biblical injunction against judging others did not include a rider about knowledge of the whole story, I had no impulse to correct Ellen's error. It seemed to me she needed help, counseling certainly and maybe even more than that, though I had no idea what extra assistance might be advisable. A restraining order sounded like a possibility if her husband was threatening harm to her. Of course, she had said "others," but I was sure he had threatened to kill her. And maybe little Needles. In my mind's eye I saw headlines about a double murder.
"Ellen, if you really fear that Kevin might be a danger to himself or others, you really ought to tell someone and make sure he gets help," I said as calmly as I could.
She waved her hand at my suggestion. "He won't hurt anyone as long as I don't leave him," she said with an assurance that seemed foolhardy to me. "I'm keeping him together."
I shook my head, but she was unmoved. "I know my husband," she said firmly. "He loves me and he loves Anita."
"And he loves Susie," I said before I had a chance to stop myself, "and who knows how many other women?"
She clenched her teeth and shook her head. "Susie is a convenience for when he's away from home. She can travel to meet him."
"Susie doesn't work?" I asked, wishing I'd had enough self-control not to.
"Susie is self-employed," she replied. "I don't know what she does to support herself, and I don't care. She mans nothing to me and little to Kevin."
"So you have no fear that he's planning to take what little money you and he have, sell the store out from under you, and go off to live with her?"
She snorted. "Don't be ridiculous."
"Then why the withdrawals of funds from you account?" I pressed her.
"He sometimes needs money," she said, looking pained. "He isn't a spendthrift, but he isn't cheap either."
"Okay," I said, "you know him and I don't. But I do hope you're keeping your eyes open and not indulging in wishful thinking."
She glared at me for a minute, trying to stare me down, I think. Then she stood up and left the room. I waiting for a couple of seconds until I heard a door close and then I too left the room and went back down the grand staircase.
"It certainly took you long enough," Miranda complained as I entered, bearing the cigar box. "Couldn't you find it?"
"I found it quickly enough," I replied, wondering if I should recount my conversation with Ellen in any detail. "Ellen came in and confronted me as soon as I'd gotten my hands on the box. We had a brief conversation."
"I can just imagine," Miranda said in an uninterested voice.
I looked over at Anita who seemed oddly quiet. She looked worried.
"Are you all right?" I asked her.
She smiled. "Just lost in thought for a moment," she replied. I sensed that she wanted to say more but wasn't. I didn't know why. I hoped it was because she finally was as eager to be on our way to Stew as I was. Better not to get involved in these people's troubles and conflicts. I went over to Miranda with the box."
"Give it to her," Miranda ordered me, pointing at Anita. "She's the one who wanted to see it."
Anita took the box from my hand and settled it carefully in her lap. I stood poised to look into it as soon as she got it open. The lid had settled a little, and she had to pry it open with a fingernail. She did, and a big grin covered her face when she saw the contents.
"Red ripples," she said. "There must be at least a dozen of them."
I reached in and extracted the top two pens from the pile. The larger was a Waterman #7 with a gray nib. "Not bad," I said. "I wonder if it needs repair or just resaccing."
The other pen was a Waterman 52 with a nib that looked like a stub. "I didn't think they stubbed these things," I said to Anita, showing her the nib.
"It doesn't look like a factory stub," she replied, closing one eye to squint at it with the other. "My loupe is out in the car. I didn't expect to be looking at pens in here."
Miranda cleared her throat. "What have your two found in that box?" she inquired. She was trying. I thought, to sound cheerful and unconcerned, but her voice was strained. I wondered if she'd been hoping for something of great financial value in the box. If so, she'd probably be disappointed. Unless there as a rare pen in there, the bunch would bring her a nice sum but nothing earth-shaking.
Anita cleared her throat. "We have found a number of Waterman pens in the red ripple finish. You might want to get Mr. Diamant to come and look at them. He'd be able to tell you what they were worth and how you might sell them, if that's what you had a mind to do. They seem to be in good enough shape. I'm sure they all need new sacs though."
Miranda sighed. "I really don't want to impose on Morris. Besides, he's looking after Anita. He can't bring her here if she's ill. She should be kept safely in bed in a darkened room. Measles!"
I could tell she was worried about her granddaughter even though she'd lived much of her life before the vaccine for measles was discovered. The disease was not likely to harm Needles, but I though I saw my chance to ask if she knew why the child hadn't been vaccinated.
"I was surprised to learn that Needles, excuse me, I mean Anita, had contracted measles. I thought all children were vaccinated against the disease these days," I said as casually as I could.
"Kevin doesn't approve of most vaccinations," Miranda informed me. "He says that children should be exposed to the common childhood diseases he was exposed to." She sniffed disdainfully. "A perfectly ridiculous opinion by a completely ridiculous man."
To my surprise I heard Ellen's voice. She'd obviously entered the room while we were gawking at the pens. "Kevin is not ridiculous, mother. He has a right to his beliefs. And Anita is his daughter, not yours."
Miranda just sniffed. "Sit down, Ellen," she commanded. Her daughter complied. "These kind people are looking at those old pens your father left in the cigar box. You know, the smelly, old, rubber things. With the red and black patterns."
Ellen rolled her eyes. "Daddy loved those pens, mother. I wish you wouldn't describe them that way."
"You father loved many things. And people," Miranda interjected. "Few of them were worth anything at all, as you well know. Except Morris, of course. But then he inherited Morris, so to speak, from your grandfather."
"Daddy loved me," Ellen protested.
"Well, he had a funny way of showing it, deserting us for that woman," Miranda grumbled.
"He didn't desert us!" Ellen squeaked. "You drove him away."
Anita cleared her throat loudly. Then she said, "I think you should continue this discussion in private. However, if you are not willing to have Mr. Diamant examine the pens, I'd be glad to do so."
I knew it! We were going to be stuck here all day. I gave Anita the evil eye, but she just smiled back at me with a twinkle in her eye.
"There's a Waterman 58 in here, Bob," she said in a conversational tone.
I stopped shooting daggers at her with my eyes and felt a grin spread over my face. Anita had found her holy grail.

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