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

Of course, Anita's holy grail wasn't really Anita's yet, and though I'd seen her buy pens before, I was curious as to how she'd manage this particular transaction. So I sat back to watch her. Miranda seemed like a shrewd enough woman, but she had no knowledge of the value of the fountain pens her husband had left behind.
"Miranda," Anita said calmly, "I would be glad to help you sell any of the pens in this box. However, you should know that there is one I myself would like to have. Since you are not informed about the value of these pens, I feel you should have a representative to advise you or perhaps to bargain for you."
Miranda smiled tiredly. "You seem determined to force me to involve Morris," she said with a slight edge to her voice.
"Not Morris necessarily, though he would be an obvious choice," Anita replied.
Miranda shook her head. "He's done enough for me. I'd prefer to deal with you directly."
Anita looked perturbed. She cleared her throat and looked over at me. I shrugged my shoulders. The pen was in excellent condition, as far as I could judge. I found myself hoping that Anita wouldn't be too scrupulous.
"I believe, Anita," I began, "that you should go to the car and dig out your loupe and a bottle of ink."
"We have ink," Miranda interjected. "Upstairs in those boxes at the bottom of the closet where you found the pens."
I was tempted to offer to go through the boxes ostensibly to hunt of ink but more to satisfy my curiosity, but Anita replied, "I might as well bring in ink if I'm going to bring in the loupe. And a few sheets of paper as well." She rose and excused herself, leaving me with Miranda and Ellen, who'd been silently looking on. She shuffled in her chair and then stood up and walked over to the fireplace.
"I think you should you should listen to her, mother, and get Morris in on this transaction. You don't know these people."
Miranda fixed her daughter with a sad stare. "Morris has done too much for us already. If Anita had wanted to deceive me, she'd never have suggested bringing in a representative to defend my interests."
Ellen sighed. "Do what you want," she said, a bitter undertone in her voice. "You always do anyway." She turned to me. "How much approximately do you think the pen your friend wants is worth?"
"Anywhere from fifteen hundred to twenty-five hundred dollars, I should guess," I answered, "depending on condition and the market."
I heard Miranda gasp. Then she collected herself and asked calmly enough, "Are the other pens in the box worth that much?"
"I doubt it," I replied. "But then I'm no expert on vintage Waterman. Anita knows a great deal more than I do."
Ellen looked worried, but Miranda, whose tiredness seemed to intensify by the moment, ignored her daughter's discomfort. She smiled at me. "Tell me," she inquired, "did you and Miss Carswell become acquainted by virtue of a shared interest in fountain pens?"
I grinned. "No, we used to teach high school together. My first few years coincided with her final years. I taught, teach, I meant to say, English, and she taught math."
Miranda looked perplexed. "So how come you're here instead of in your classroom?" Her tone was almost one of interrogation, softened only by a faint smile. I had a hint of why some people might find her intimidating.
"I am on leave this semester." For a moment I was tempted to tell her about Betsy, but instead I decided to ask a personal question that had been occupying me since I met her. I took a deep breath. "What illness has put you in a wheelchair, Miranda?"
Ellen gasped, but Miranda simply replied, "Oh, I've had multiple sclerosis for almost fifteen years. Until then our family life was exemplary. My husband, however, found my illness hard to take."
"Mother!" Ellen protested. "Don't!"
Miranda smiled gently at Ellen. "I know you don't want to hear the truth, dear, but your father and I were really quite happy until the onset of my illness. That's when things fell apart."
Ellen hissed and fell silent.
"My husband was a wonderful man, but he was weak," Miranda continued. "I expected more of him than he was able to give. Contrary to Ellen's opinion, my personality didn't drive him away. My illness did."
My mind was reeling, and I could hardly reply.
"Are you all right?" Miranda asked me, concern filling her voice.
I pulled myself together and said as calmly as possible, "My wife has multiple sclerosis. It's been very difficult for me to feel that anything I do is right."
I stopped, feeling acutely embarrassed and looked from her to Ellen. Ellen just stared at me without a word. Miranda, however, cleared her throat.
"All I can tell you is to hang in there, Bob. It's all right if I call you Bob, isn't it?"
I nodded.
"It's probably hard for her to know what she needs and even harder to ask. But if you love her, pay attention. Both to her needs and your own." She took a deep breath, and I could see that her tiredness was deepening.
"Don't you want to go lie down and get some rest?" I asked tentatively.
She just waved her hand at me. "No, I want to finish what I'm telling you." She took another deep breath. "When I first got sick, my husband tried very hard to attend to me. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I kept telling him to take some time off, but he wouldn't listen. He kept asking me why I wanted to get rid of him. I didn't want to get rid of him. I just wanted him to be able to stay in for the long haul, which is what he couldn't do. He burned out."
Ellen stood up and left the room. Miranda grimaced. "It's hard for Ellen to face the truth, but the sooner she does, the sooner she'll stop trying to recreate my relationship with her father, but 'do it right', as she puts it. Kevin is not Martin. Martin, though weak, was a decent man."
I could barely respond, feeling as if someone had stepped on my grave. Miranda observed me shrewdly. "I hope you are able to understand what I'm telling you, Bob."
I nodded. "Thank you," I said sincerely. "I am taking this vacation, if you will, from my wife at her suggestion. Her insistence, really. She was, I believe, feeling smothered. Her sister is with her now. We don't get on, that sister and I, and I've been feeling a bit guilty and more than a bit worried. But maybe I'm doing the right thing."
She looked at me very hard for a second and then smiled broadly. "You are."
My head was still spinning, but I was aware that Anita had re-entered the room after what had seemed like a very long time. She had a very determined look on her face and was carrying, along with her loupe, ink, and paper, the case of pens that she'd brought to sell in Chicago. She glanced at me and smiled, then turned her attention to Miranda.
"I have reached a decision," she announced, "and I've acted on it. I phoned Mr. Diamant."
Miranda's face grew tense.
"Now wait a moment, 'she began, but Anita cut her off. "I didn't ask him to come here, as you expressly told me you didn't want him involved in my transaction with you. However, he made me an offer before, volunteering to try to sell my pens for me. I decided to take him up on that offer, as it appears that Mr. Floh really is as unreliable as Mr. Diamant had implied."
"Anita," I interrupted her. "What's going on?"
She sighed. "Well, I phoned Mr. Floh from the car…," she began.
"What do you mean, you phoned him from the car?" I interrupted belligerently. "Since when is there a phone in my car?"
"I thought that I'd returned Joanna's phone, but I hadn't," she replied..
"What do you mean?" I persisted, annoyed that we'd now have to have yet one more meeting with the obnoxious Mrs. Privett, if only to return the phone. At the same time, however, I was delighted to have caught out Anita. She'd forgotten something! Might that not be a weapon in our never-ending disagreement about who was responsible for the extra pen clip among the bits of Jason Hardy's pen?
"Stop that!" Anita said sharply. "Stop smirking at me like a cat that swallowed a canary."
I composed my face. "I wasn't smirking. What you thought was a smirk was merely a frown of annoyance. I do not look forward to another encounter with the repulsive Mrs. P."
Anita shook her head at me. "You know very well you were smirking. No, I repeat for the millionth time, I did not accidentally put an extra pen clip in with those pen fragments!"
She knew me too well. I grinned at her, and she took that as an admission of culpability, I suppose, for she turned her attention back to Miranda.
"I had made an arrangement," she explained, "to sell Mr. Floh several pens at the pen show. I wished to have the money so I might bid successfully on a Waterman 58 in the red ripple finish that is up for auction."
"The same sort of pen as you found among those my husband left," Miranda observed.
"Precisely. I phoned Mr. Floh to find out if he was interested in purchasing any of the other red ripple pens, He expressed interest, but then informed me that he'd realized he would not be able to pay for my pens with cash or a money order, as we'd agreed. He did not ask so much as order me to accept his personal check." Anita sighed. "Since Mr. Diamant had warned me against accepting checks from Mr. Floh, I refused. Gently, of course. I explained that I needed the funds immediately, and he cancelled our transaction."
"You weren't really planning to bid on that auction, were you?" I inquired, my voice revealing my amazement, I'm sure.
"I was considering all my options," she replied calmly. "But now, I think it most unlikely that I'd bid at the pens show, given the availability of the pen right here."
"So then why…?"
"I wanted to try to sell Miranda's pens without involving Mr. Diamant. Since I was already dealing with Mr. Floh…"
"Miss Carswell!" Miranda called out, her outrage all too evident. "I can't believe you'd do that. Why, Morris would feel dreadfully betrayed if I sold pens to Felix Floh!"
Miranda smiled at her very gently. "Miranda, you know as well as I that Morris will feel dreadfully betrayed at your having asked me to be your agent rather than turning to him. That, however, has not stopped you, has it?"
Miranda flushed and then became pale.
"I think that's enough, Anita," I interjected. "You made your point." I was afraid Miranda might pass out or have some kind of attack.
Anita ignored me. "Don't you think it's time to call him in, Miranda?"
Miranda's eyes filled with tears. "I can't ask him again. He's done too much."
Anita walked over to her and put a hand on her arm. "That's not what this is about, is it, Miranda?"
Miranda glared at her through her tears. "Morris was there when my husband died," she said softly. "Ellen doesn't know, and he promised he'd never tell her. My husband was leaving us. He and I had had a terrible argument. Morris was here at the time. He heard it all."
"And he followed your husband, didn't he?" Anita said unexpectedly. I looked at her, but her attention was focused on Miranda, who nodded.. "Yes, he pulled Martin out of the car after the crash and rushed him to the hospital, but it was too late. Since then he's been my guardian angel. I just can't ask more of him."
"Martin said something to him, didn't he?" Anita pried.
Miranda nodded again. "Yes, he told said, 'Even with the multiple sclerosis, Miranda and I could have made it, if only it weren't for that brat Ellen'." She began to cry. "I wish Morris hadn't told me, but he meant well. He wanted me to know that Martin still loved me, but what difference did that make if he rejected our daughter?"
Anita shook her head but said nothing. There was really nothing she could say.


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