Friday, March 14, 2014

In my novel Birthright or Birthright (Kindle), I wanted to show how the brilliant patriarch of the legendary Kronengold banking family discerned a similar brilliance in his five-year-old granddaughter Deborah that set her apart from the other children in the family. I chose the family's celebration of the Jewish holiday of Passover in which that incident could occur. 

Here’s an excerpt: 

Deborah was the youngest child present. She had been carefully schooled for several years in the table manners expected of an upper-class young lady, but she was nonetheless bewildered by the number of forks, knives, spoons, and glasses set out before her. When in doubt, she had been told, use the outside utensil, but no meal could possibly have so many courses. There was so much an adult had to know, she decided. No wonder it took so long to become one.

For children the high point of a seder is the hunt for the afikomen, a piece of matzo wrapped in a napkin that is hidden when none of them is looking. Deborah was all concentration, never taking her eyes off of the square of napkin-covered matzo beside her grandfather's plate. She was determined that the prize—traditionally money, she was told—would be hers.

But she had anticipated too soon. When dinner was finally brought in by a file of servants bearing gleaming silver trays, her attention was captured by the display. The butler led, his white collar high and starched, his black bow tie alert, like rabbit ears. Behind him were the liveried footmen. The young ladies who worked for the family followed, their backs straight, their cheeks slightly flushed at the notice their entrance was receiving.

"At last!" Malcolm cried out. "Another minute, and I'd have converted out of pure hunger."

Everyone laughed. Deborah's gaze shifted back to the napkin. It was gone! In that short moment of letting down her guard, someone had whisked it away. Halfway down the table, Malcolm was standing behind one of the relatives. Grandfather's eyes seemed to be laughing at her. All her advantage lost. Deborah folded her arms and glared at him.

When the children were finally unleashed, yapping and scuffling, she bounded to the head of the table. The others searched chuckling dinner guests or opened the doors of cabinets along the walls or peeked behind pictures, but she was convinced it had to be near Grandfather; her surveillance had been broken for only that single instant. Malcolm, empty-handed, had been too far down the table; he had been a decoy. Deborah studied Grandfather's face. He stared as intently at hers, his eyes once again seeming to laugh at her predicament.

"Deborah, you'd better hurry—someone else will find it," Malcolm's wife, Lavinia, prodded.

The heavy older man and the little girl continued to study each other. She could see clearly it was not in his lap or under his chair. Hands locked across his stomach, he sat unmoving in the tall chair. He seemed much stiffer than earlier in the evening. Of course! She plunged into the space separating his back from the upholstery. Having observed her sudden movement, the other children were rushing toward them. She groped around frantically. The bottom of his jacket felt hard and flat; her hands scrabbled underneath it—and the prize was hers. Triumphantly, she held up the glorious square white parcel. The adults applauded and cheered. Richard was fuming. The ignominy of being bested by someone as young, as insignificant, and as female as she was almost too crushing an embarrassment to bear. It would be days before he spoke to her again. She resolved not to care.

"My prize!" she demanded.

"What do you want?" Samuel asked.

"Money. That's the prize ... isn't it?"

"Perhaps some candy." His tone was teasing.

But it's supposed to be money!"

"Deborah, speak to your grandfather with more respect," her mother interjected sharply.

But she was not to be diverted. She continued to stare him down.

Samuel broke into a wide smile. "I honestly believe this monkey would go so far as to destroy my reputation in the City if I failed to pay what I owe her."

He lifted her onto his knee. "You sit here with me, little Deborah. Tomorrow morning I will withdraw one entire gold guinea from the bank just for you."

She hadn't the slightest idea what the value was of the coin Grandfather had named, having never possessed, nor needed to, even so much as a tuppence in her life. "Is that a lot of money?"

"A fortune," he assured her. "And afterward we shall go to a grand restaurant, you and I, to discuss important financial matters."

Deborah had never been to a restaurant, but had often stood yearning to join her mother as she pulled on her gloves and adjusted her hat in the mirror.

"Do you promise?"

He solemnly extended his hand. "Is my credit good until tomorrow?"

They shook hands, and she collapsed happily against his chest.

Read more: Birthright or Birthright (Kindle).

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