A woman of hidden desires, Hennie De Rivera has none of the wealth enjoyed by her relatives, the Werner banking dynasty. But tall, shy Hennie has grand dreams, especially of daring activist Dan Roth, who invites controversy by fighting for New York's poorest immigrants. Breaking society's rules might have devastating consequences for this passionate woman—and for her nephew Paul Werner, who weds his debutante fiancée while still yearning for his mother's beautiful maid, Anna Friedman. And amid heartbreaking discoveries and the gathering clouds of World War I, the stirring family saga begun in Evergreen continues with an unforgettable tale of forbidden passions, intimate secrets, and sweeping social change. . . .
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About the Author
Before becoming a novelist, Belva Plain wrote short stories for many major magazines, but taking care of a husband and three children did not give her the time to concentrate on the novel she had always wanted to write. When she looked back and said she didn't have the time, she felt as though she had been making excuses. In retrospect, she said, "I didn't make the time." But, she reminded us, during the era that she was raising her family, women were supposed to concentrate only on their children. Today 30 million copies of her books are in print.
A Barnard College graduate who majored in history, Belva Plain enjoyed a wonderful marriage of more than 40 years to Irving Plain, an ophthalmologist. Widowed for more than 25 years, Ms. Plain continued to reside in New Jersey, where she and her husband had raised their family and which was still home to her nearby children and grandchildren until her death in October 2010.
Date of Birth:October 9, 1915
Date of Death:October 12, 2010
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Place of Death:Short Hills, New Jersey
Education:B.A., Barnard College
Read an Excerpt
All her life she would remember the somber autumn sky, how vast and high and cold it had been while the great wind raced from the East River toward Broadway. When she was very old she would still marvel, as do we all, over the randomness of things, for if she had not happened to turn just that corner, in just that hour, her whole life would have been different.
The child whose hand she held would vaguely remember cries and lurid color, a blur of savage yellow, confusion and a terror not half understood.
And another child, the one who came to be born because she had turned that corner, would hear a tale of heroism, as it grew to become a family legend, until he was sick of hearing it.
The tenement burned. Over its scorched brick walls the fire scurried and flurried, tearing as with giant claws its fibers and sinews. Out of its ruined heart there rose a spiral of flame; strong and fierce, it soared into the wind, and a bitter smoke poured over the rooftops. Powerful arcs of water shot from the pumps to the blaze, but the fire had power of its own.
And the watching crowd, packed tightly on the street among the engines and great stamping fire horses, stood waiting either for the destruction to be complete or to be told what to do and where to go. Sweatered and shawled in shabby brownish gray, it hardly moved, only changing weight from one foot to the other, shifting a baby from one shoulder to the other. With a single voice it gave out a mournful, plaintive murmur.
Fires like this one were common enough in that part of the city, yet these people were stunned into disbelief. It was too soon for any of them to believe in the truth of what was happening or to have counted the full extent of loss, the featherbedding and pillows, the kitchen table, the change of underwear and the winter coat. That would come later. It was enough now to have gotten out alive.
There was a terrible, anguished shriek. A young girl at the farthermost edge of the crowd, who had been passing through the street, turned back at the sound. She had a little boy by the hand and had been hurrying away because she had not wanted the child to see anything so frightful. But the cry pierced her and she stopped.
“What is it? Is someone hurt?”
The word was carried back in relays, neighbor to neighbor.
“There’s someone left inside, somebody’s baby.”
“On the top floor, too.”
“The hoses don’t reach that far.”
“There’s not enough pressure anyway.”
An innocent question. “Can’t they go up through the next house and reach in?”
A scornful reply. “Who’s going to try that, do you think?”
Now the smoke came whipping out of the fourth floor. Soon it would reach the fifth and then the top.
“Can’t live long in there.”
“My God, what a way to die!”
The girl was unable to pull herself away. She could hear her own heart beat.
“You’re hurting my hand,” the child cried.
“Oh, Paul, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hold you so hard.” And she bent to button up his little velvet collar against the wind. “We’ll go, we’ll go in a minute.”
But she was fastened to the place where she stood. Her eyes were fastened to the windows behind which the most awful death was taking place, the death of a child. She felt the trembling warmth of the little boy’s hand. What if it were he? And she looked down at the clear bright eyes, the brightest blue, and the round cheeks … And thought: But it is somebody’s child, isn’t it? And could not move away.…
Now with furious clangor of bells came the hook and ladder. Four horses clattered and charged, so that the crowd spread frantically apart to let them through, recoiling from the hooves and the snorting breath. The ladder was taken down, dragged to the building, and propped up against the wall; had no one known it could reach no higher than three floors? There sounded a great gasp and a collective sigh.
Stupid, stupid, thought the girl.
One of the firemen reached the top of the ladder and stood there, extending his arms in a gesture of helplessness to show that he was still a full story and a half from the top floor. Then, having shown that the task was impossible, he backed down the ladder, coughing and choking through the smoke, to join a knot of firemen gathered on the sidewalk among those onlookers who had the same opinion: There was no hope.
“Wouldn’t you think,” a woman ventured again, “that somebody could go through the house next door?”
“And how get across? You can see the air shaft’s too wide to step over. you think anybody will try to jump across, six floors up, with nothing but a rotting cornice to hold you?”
“Anyway, you couldn’t get a foothold on that ledge. It’s only a couple of inches wide.”
“No, whoever is in there is a goner.”
“Burned to a crisp.”
“They say the smoke kills you first. You suffocate.”
“That’s not always true. Once I saw a man in flames. He shrieked.… I can still hear him.”
The fire began to roar. Perhaps it had been roaring all along, but the girl was only now conscious of its terrible voice. She closed her eyes. The roar was storm-wind and storm-water on the beach at Long Island, where they went sometimes in the summer, and had watched a man drown. It was a force to blow you before it like a leaf or a grain of sand. There was nothing you could do.
Someone was shoving a way through the crowd. The girl, feeling the wave of displaced bodies, had a glimpse of the back of a head of black hair and a checked woolen shirt. Standing on tiptoe, she saw a young man running, moving the sidewalk groups aside, and plunging up the steps of the next tenement.
“He’s going to try,” a woman said. “Can you imagine, he’s going to try.”
“What do you think? To get in through the other building!”
“I don’t believe it. It’s impossible! He’d be crazy!”
“Then he’s crazy.”
“My God, look there! Up there!”
The young man was at the top-floor window, next to the burning building. Astride the sill, he swung a leg out into the air.
“What does he—how does he think he can—” The onlookers seemed to be whispering with that single voice again.
A foot searched for a place on the narrow cornice. It was a tin cornice; above it stood the numbers 1889. A hand went out and groped, testing the fragile scroll on the flat, fake-classic pillar, a crude bas-relief in crumbling stone. The hand drew back.
“There’s no purchase there, nothing to grasp,” the girl said to herself. Her breath held in her throat.
The smoke was thickening. It wreathed and curled in the scurrying wind; the fire was now making a wind of its own, which met the winds from the river, from the four corners of the earth, and fought them, swirling the smoke so that the man was almost hidden in it.
He changed to a sitting position on the sill. For a moment he sat quite still; his legs hung down; he wore green corduroy trousers. Then, as if he had finally made his decision, he twisted off from the sill, with his back to the street, his toes on the cornice, his hands on the sill. By hand and foot he clung to the moldering stone.
“Oh, let it hold! Let it not break off and send him smashing to the street!”
The girl’s neck ached; tense with the strain of peering upward, she felt herself in that young man’s place. He probed now with one foot, gauging the distance between the buildings. It was too long even for the long legs of such a tall man—for, even from where she stood, she could see that he was tall. So he would need to slide to the edge of the building and then jump, which he must have known from the start, just as the fireman had known.
“Come back … don’t try … come back.”
In the burning house the windows had begun to melt; the shattered glass fell with a musical tinkle. Cinders and shreds of burned cloth rained gently to the street.
Somebody spoke behind the girl. “No one can be alive in there.”
“It’s not worth risking his life—”
His hand must have seized some small projection. Inch by inch he slid along the stone face, past the window. Far up, through the screen of smoke, they could see him, could sense that again he was measuring distance, positioned to spring. Now he seemed to be steadying himself, assessing his balance or maybe arguing with himself as to whether it made any sense at all to try.
You can’t do it, don’t you see you can’t?
Silence. A horse neighed. Silence. Somebody coughed.
Excerpt From: Belva Plain. “The Golden Cup.” iBooks.