Mr. Churchill's Secretary
had a grandmother, that she
died, and that she’d willed me her house!” She looked at Aunt Edith in shock. “I can’t believe this!”
    “Maggie, there’s more history here than you can possibly appreciate. I just wanted to save you from this … unpleasantness.”
    “ ‘Unpleasantness’? That’s how you’re summing up this situation—an ‘unpleasantness’? I think that GrandmotherHope made that condition in the will because she knew you would lie to me about her. And you did.”
    Edith looked down at her hands. They were thin, and in the late-afternoon sunlight, the veins ran blue under a scattering of freckles and age spots; she never was one for gloves. Maggie had a moment of sympathy for her but then reconsidered. She’d lied. She’d kept secret the knowledge that she’d had any family outside of herself. She lied about said grandmother’s death. And if she could have, she would have lied about the inheritance.
    “Look, I’m a college graduate now. Don’t you think it’s time to start treating me like an adult?”
    “I’m well aware of your age, Margaret. And if you want me to treat you like a grown-up, you will need to behave like one. Unless you go to London and sell the house, you won’t be able to go to M.I.T. I’m sorry, but there it is.” She used her lecture-hall voice.
    “All right.” Maggie crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ll see the house, pick up a teacup or two, and sell the place. You’re sure M.I.T. will hold my place?”
    “I have the dean’s word.”
    She locked eyes with Aunt Edith. “Fine. I’ll go.”
    And that was that.
    But in London that year, as the elm trees had turned yellow and the house didn’t sell, Maggie couldn’t help worrying. The structure had fast become her albatross; under its cornices and cupolas, she’d felt herself reduced to duncelike immobility. Across the Atlantic, school, with its predictable rhythms and routines, had started without her for the first time. It was disconcerting. If she wasn’t in a classroom, if she wasn’t solving math problems, then who was she?
    Of course she’d had to stay in London. She’d had no choice. And with war imminent and then declared, no one had been interested in buying such a large and old-fashionedplace, with its outdated fixtures, rusty water pipes, and leaking roof. The heavy and hopelessly Victorian decor hadn’t helped, nor the smoke-tinged wallpaper and dusty, moth-eaten silk draperies.
    She’d been lonely that fall, rattling around the big house by herself. She kept the wireless on for company and haunted the postman for letters from home.
    But she still couldn’t help feeling sentimental about the place; it had been her grandmother’s, and now—no matter how cruel and horrible she might have been to Aunt Edith—it was Maggie’s. She’d found a few yellowed and crumbling letters her father had sent home to her grandmother during the war, even one where he described his first meeting with her mother—family history she otherwise never would have known about and was grateful to have. She couldn’t help but look around and wonder what life would have been like if she’d grown up in London, with two parents and a grandmother, possibly a few brothers and sisters—as a proper English girl. The letters and house were her only link with that alternate existence.
    But it had been rough going. The roof was the first thing to be fixed. It wasn’t easy to watch the small amount of money she’d inherited from her parents, so prudently invested and guarded by Aunt Edith, dwindle away as the roof-repair project grew exponentially. Just as one spot was patched, another would spring a leak. Maggie reasoned she’d make it back and more when the house sold, but it was hard not to worry in the early hours of the morning.
    She’d found the amenities to be old-fashioned compared to Aunt Edith’s. In the evenings, Maggie read, wrote in her journal, or worked on a few problem sets in a soft

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