didn't need to say anything else. Miranda began to tell the
story of her marriage to Martin, of their early happiness,
the birth of their daughter, and their hopes and dreams for
the future. Her face lit up when she talked about those days,
and all traces of tiredness disappeared. She seemed like a
healthy, happy woman. I could hardly believe my eyes at the
Alas, her illness changed had everything. "Not at first,"
she explained. "Martin was wonderful, as supportive and
caring as anyone could wish. It was Ellen who took it hard.
She was only eight, and she didn't really understand what
was wrong. At first, she bustled around trying to be helpful
to 'her sick mommy', but soon she became cranky and irritable.
And Martin, who'd been a wonderful father until that point,
quickly lost patience."
She shook her head, and the tiredness reappeared in her expression
"You see," she continued, "Martin's mother
had died when he was only ten, and his father had raised him.
My father-in-law was an extremely upright man, just and generous
but with a strong inclination to self-righteousness. He tended
to be rigid when challenged, and Martin's adolescence would
have been terrible had Morris not been there to act as an
intermediary. Morris and Martin's father respected each other
enormously. That enabled Morris to serve as a sort of surrogate
uncle, a mentor to Martin and a moderating influence on his
"When I met Martin, he was thirty years old, serving
as the town's clerk, and waiting for his father to die so
he could take over the family's insurance business that his
father had begun as a second career after numerous terms he'd
served as the town clerk.. Martin's father had never included
him in its daily running, but he was surprised when he was
left nothing; at the old man's death the business had to be
sold to pay off creditors. Martin never even knew his father,
a man proud of his reputation, the family name, and his high
standard of living, was in debt. I told myself that Martin
didn't marry me just for my money, though I'm sure that's
what people in town thought. I'd come into a sizable inheritance
upon the death of my mother, who'd taken the thousand or so
dollars left to her by my father and parlayed it into a goodly
sum on the stock market. My mother was quite clever that way.
"I was, as I said, older than Martin, and I was more
fixed in my ways, but I tried to accommodate him. I didn't
think he felt at a disadvantage because I was technically
the one with the money. In those days, a wife's money was
her husband's to do with as he pleased. He bought the antique
store with it and another business, a small bookstore. He
had dreams of adding a writing instrument and stationery store
to his miniature empire and hoped to persuade Morris to run
it for him. My illness changed all that.
"Medical expenses ate away at our savings and my tiredness,
which caring for a cranky child intensified, took its toll
on our relationship. Martin suggested sending Ellen to boarding
school, but I refused. Two years after I fell ill, he became
involved with another woman. Or maybe it was several other
women. I never knew for sure.
"I was devastated, of course, but for me, the most significant
problem was his increasing aversion to our daughter. It wasn't
until the day he died that I learned of his conviction that
her birth was what caused my disease. A ridiculous notion!
We fought about it that day. I told him that even if it were
true, I could never wish not to have had Ellen. He called
me a fool and accused me of having never loved him, of only
marrying him in order to have a child.
"Morris heard all of this. He had arrived early that
afternoon and was waiting for Martin in this very room. We
fought in the living room. Every word carried. I was aware
that he was hearing it all and tried several times during
the argument to calm myself and Martin, to warn him that we
were being overheard, but he ignored my warnings.
Ellen was visiting Joanna Privett at the time, thank heaven,
and knew none of this. Joanna's older son is Ellen's age,
and they were great friends at one time. In fact, I'd hoped
that they might marry someday. She knew nothing about the
argument. I deliberately kept her in the dark about its contents.
She adored her father and I had no wish to shatter her faith
Miranda paused in her monologue and looked at Anita. "Am
I telling you more than you'd like to know?" she asked.
Anita shook her head. Miranda, apparently oblivious to my
presence, she continued her story. I wished she'd asked me
though, as I realized from a glance at my watch that the day
was more than half gone.
"When Morris decided he had heard enough, he popped out
of the library and confronted Martin." She smiled. "You
haven't seen Morris when he gets agitated. Oh, yes, I know
he must have gone on at great length about Felix Floh and
the insult to his honor, but when his agitation is extreme,
he reverts to his native language. So he entered the living
room through the connecting door, shouting at the top of his
lungs, 'Martin, fass dich', which I'd learned was his way
of telling Martin to shut up. Martin just turned angrily and
fixed him with an angry stare and said, 'This is my wife,
and I'll speak to her as I wish. Just because your precious
Anneliese was exterminated doesn't mean you have to defend
every damned cripple in the world'. And with that Martin stomped
out the front door. In a few moments the motor of his car
started up and the tires squealed loudly as he drove off.
"Despite the extreme cruelty of Martin's comment, Morris
didn't hesitate for a moment. He ran out the door and went
after him. His car, however, was no match for my husband's.
And Martin always drove very fast. Morris saw him hit the
tree about ten miles up the road from here. He pulled Martin
out of the car before it exploded, but there was nothing he
could do to save him."
Miranda must have seen the perplexity on my face because Anita's
expression was grave but composed.
"When Morris was a student, he spent two years at a university
over the border in Germany. He met a girl there. Anneliese.
She'd miraculously survived polio as a child but was undersized
and wore leg braces. She was a brilliant girl though, a mathematical
prodigy, and very kind. From his description of her I gathered
that he was very much in love. He hoped she would join him
here once he emigrated, though I'm sure that would have been
difficult to arrange, given that she was handicapped. But
she was killed, euthanized was how the Nazis put it, during
the years at the start of their power when they killed off
the old and infirm. I don't think he ever got over her death.
He never married.
"As Ellen grew up, her attitude towards me became worse
and worse. She clearly blamed me for her father's death. Morris
insisted from the start that I tell her the truth, but I just
couldn't. He believed that if she'd known the truth she'd
never have married Kevin. Or if she had, she'd have left him
as soon as he began his womanizing. But I can't destroy her
faith in her father. Sometimes I think that it's all she has
besides little Anita.
"Morris had promised me he'd keep my secret, but lately
he's been restive, insisting that Ellen needs to know, if
not for her sake, then for Anita's. I don't think she'd believe
anything I told her at this point. And I doubt that she'd
believe him, much as she loves him. She's always suspected
that Morris was in love with me, which is utter nonsense,
but her suspicion would certainly color her reaction to anything
he said that might be seen as a criticism of Martin.
"She believes Martin loved her dearly, and he did. Until
I fell ill. I feel responsible, I suppose, for the failure
of his love for her. Much more so than for the failure of
his love for me, oddly enough. But then she needed that love
so much more than I did."
Miranda stopped talking and looked at Anita with a very peculiar
expression on her face. It was a mixture of pleading and resignation.
She wanted some kind of reassurance, that was clear. But it
wasn't at all clear that Anita could or would provide it.
"I understand why you protected Ellen," Anita said
very gently. "I don't agree that it was the wisest thing
you could have done, but I can and do sympathize. However,
you must see that by lying to preserve Ellen's image of her
father and of his relationship to her, you put your relationship
with her at risk."
Miranda nodded sadly. "I'd hoped that with time she'd
understand that I was not the monster she believed me to be."
Anita shook her head. "You were her only surviving parent,
and by choosing to protect her from the truth, you left her,
to all intents and purposes without a mother as well as without
Miranda started to protest, but Anita held up her hand. "What
is done is done, and I understand and sympathize, even though
I think you made the wrong choice. I am not saying this to
blame or judge you, but to tell you that it is time to correct
"So you agree with Morris," Miranda said sadly.
Anita nodded. "Yes, I do. I think it is too late to change
the past, but the present and the future, especially your
granddaughter's future, must be considered."
My attention was caught by a noise, and I realized that, given
what Miranda had said about Morris' having overheard from
the very room in which we were sitting Miranda's conversation
with Martin in the living room, it was not at all impossible
that Ellen had been listening in on us. The idea took hold
of me and wouldn't let go. What a horrible way for her to
find out the truth!
Anita looked over at me, looking curious. "Is something
I stood up and went to the door leading to the living room.
"I thought I heard a noise in there," I replied.
"No one is in there," Miranda said, sounding a bit
irritated at my interruption. "Ellen is with little Anita."
I stared at her, nonplussed. "How can you be so sure?"
I demanded. "Wouldn't it be terrible for her to overhear
what you were just telling us instead of hearing it directly?"
Miranda sighed. "You too?"
I shook my head. "I'm not offering advice. The noise
just startled me a little, and I starting thinking."
"Well, don't!" she grumbled, and I recognized the
tone of voice. It was familiar. That's what Betsy sounded
like when she was exhausted and forcing herself to stay awake.
"You need to rest, Miranda," I said as gently as
I could, determined not to take offense.
She sighed again. "You're right, of course. But I'm unwilling
to have this meeting end. You've given me much to think about."
Anita looked over at me and said softly, "Ellen left
when I was out in the car. I'd never have let this go on if
there had been even the slightest chance she'd hear."
I nodded, relieved. "Well," I said calmly, "it's
getting late and we need to be on our way."
Miranda looked at Anita. "Will you take the ripple pens
Anita fell silent for a moment. "I'd rather examine them
here, if that's all right with you. Why don't you go and get
some rest. Bob can wheel you to wherever you need to go. By
the time you're feeling more energetic, I'll be able to tell
you what I think the pens are worth."
"But will you take them?" Miranda insisted. "I
want you to take them. Sell them. You can send me the money
whenever it's convenient."
Anita shook her head. "Rest, Miranda. We can talk about
"But we need to leave," I protested.
Anita shook her head. "Look at the time," she replied.
"I don't know about you, but I need to eat. All we've
had since breakfast were a couple of Mr. Diamant's pastries.
It's evening Bob. How far can we get before nightfall?"
"Enough!" Anita said sharply, pointing with her
chin at Miranda, who seemed to be falling asleep in her chair.
"Stew has waited this long, so he can wait another day."
I stood up and walked over to the sleeping woman in the wheelchair.
At my approach she opened her eyes. "The door behind
me leads into a den. I have a bed in there."
I nodded stiffly and rolled her gently away. When I propped
open the door into the den, I look behind me, and Anita was
already at work at the table by the large bay window. She
had the box of pens open and was examining nib on the large
Waterman 58 carefully with her loupe. Ignoring everything
else in the world as she always did when working on pens,
she carefully laid the uncapped pen on a piece of lint-free
cloth she carried with her and opened a bottle of ink. I didn't
have to check to know it was Waterman. I could tell by the
smell. I was tempted to watch her dip the pen and write, but
I knew she'd notice that I was procrastinating. I sighed,
hoping she'd look up, but she didn't. So I pushed the wheelchair
through the door that slowly swung closed behind me. I knew
Stew would have to wait.