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

Anita 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 transformation.
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 and gestures.
"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 father.
"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 in him."
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 a father."
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 that mistake."
"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 wrong, Bob?"
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 with you?"
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 this later."
"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?"
"But Stew…"
"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.


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