October 1941 

Moe speaks to an army chaplain, a priest, who is sympathetic and interested, and helps him deal with his issues of staying religious in the army. Annie gets a warm welcome from her long-lost, elegant Aunt Cele and promises to return the next day.

There was no white-cuffed maid answering the door when Annie rang Aunt Cele’s bell the next afternoon. It was opened by an elderly woman in a navy suit trimmed with leopard skin, which even to Annie’s unsophisticated eye looked beautifully cut and undoubtedly terribly expensive. 

“So you’re the long-lost niece,” she said. Her voice was low and arresting; a voice accustomed to command and instant obedience — a voice that didn’t bother with niceties, but cut straight to the core. 

She smiled, an unexpectedly charming smile, and stuck out a bejeweled hand. “Hilda Westheim. Your aunt’s best friend and most avid critic.” 

She turned and disappeared into the house. Annie, unsure of what to do or say, quietly followed her into the parlor. Without the chairs and milling women, it seemed enormous. 

“Cele is late,” the woman announced, once the two of them were ensconced — Hilda, comfortably; Annie, sitting upright and stiff — in two beautifully upholstered chairs. “Cele is always late. She has trouble sleeping, she claims, and then manages to get up at eleven. More laziness than insomnia, I should say.” 

Annie searched for something to say. The halachos of shemiras halashon were almost a palpable presence in the Freed Hotel and she was shocked at the casual disrespect with which Hilda spoke about her friend. 

“I can’t understand how she ever managed to keep her job as a nurse, even for a single day,” Hilda continued. 

At last, here was an opening for Annie to speak. “Someone told me Aunt Cele was a nurse,” she said. “What happened? When did she give it up?” 

Hilda gave a brief laugh laced with as much spite as humor. “Oh, yes, Cele was a nurse for as long as it suited her. Went hunting for a rich doctor, found him, and married herself right out of hospital work.” 

“It wasn’t quite like that, Hilda darling,” Cele’s voice broke in, as she walked into the room. “Though I admit I was relieved to give up the job. So hard on the feet, and those dreadful white shoes.” She turned to Annie. “Don’t believe a word Hilda says, dear. She is too, too terrible. But a wonderful shopper. That’s why I’ve invited her to join us. Come, ladies, we’ve got a lot to accomplish today.”