J L Lindermuth Interviews Miss Ellen Kauffman from Something So Divine
Ladies and gents, allow me to introduce Miss Ellen Kauffman, a character from my novel Something So Divine (I would have preferred to interview Detective Roth but he was off investigating).
In the novel, Ned Gebhardt, a mentally challenged youth, has been accused in the murder of a 16-year-old girl in 1897. Though the evidence against him is circumstantial, only Ellen Kauffman, village storekeeper, and Iris, Ned’s stepsister, believe him innocent. Influenced by them, Simon Roth, the investigator, is inclined to give Ned benefit of the doubt, pending discovery of more evidence. Shall we begin?
JRL: Good morning, Miss Kauffman. Will you tell us where and when you were born?
EK: Sir, some think it improper to ask a woman her age. But I won’t fuss with you. I was born in 1863 right here in Pennsylvania.
JRL: Sorry if I offended you. Would you tell us a little about yourself?
EK: I’m the proprietor of a general store in a small village on the Susquehanna river in Pennsylvania, though often I feel the store owns me rather than the other way round. I’m not a native of this village. I came here with my late husband and we operated the business together until his fatal accident. Since then I’ve had neither the money or inclination to leave. Though I won’t disclose it here, there’s a secret in my past which makes me sympathetic to young women taken advantage of by men.
JRL: What influence did your birth family have on you, your choices, your life? Explain why and how.
EK: I barely remember them. I was a mere child when my father went off to war. He never returned. Mother died in a typhoid epidemic when I was 14. Until I married Hank, I was an independent woman, and I guess that’s what I am once more.
JRL: How would you describe yourself?
EK: Wavy brown hair, blue eyes and a decent complexion. The need of spectacles and a slightly bent nose prevent me from being so vain as to say I’m pretty. Still (blushing), Mr. Roth seems to find me sufficiently attractive.
JRL: Do you have a moral code? If so, what is it?
EK: Indeed I do. I care about other people and believe in treating them fairly, not judging them on the basis of gossip and rumor as so many in this village have done in the case of poor Ned Gebhardt. Why that sad gentle boy doesn’t have it in him to harm another person. And especially not Susie Schaeffer. He confided in me he loved the girl. He could not have done those terrible things to her.
JRL: Tell us a little more about this village where you live.
EK: Ours is a small, bucolic village situated across the river from Shannon, the county seat. Many of our people are engaged in farming or related industries or work in the coal mines, which are the source of Shannon’s prosperity. I don’t mean to imply our people are bad, but many are small-minded and vindictive, which is not to Ned’s advantage. Like many in such small rural communities, the villagers are poorly educated, lacking in social graces, nosey and inclined to gossip. Oh, dear. I don’t mean to be so judgmental. Yet, the truth is the truth.
JRL: Tell me the truth now, is there an occasion when you would tell a lie?
EK (scowling): If women were permitted on juries I would be sore tempted to lie if there were no other means of saving Ned’s life.
JRL: How do you feel about your life right now? What would you like to change?
EK: I’m satisfied with my personal life, though I would like to see Ned Gebhardt proven innocent of this terrible crime.
JRL: Which living person do you admire most?
EK: At the present moment I’d have to say Detective Roth. I know it’s his job to bring the guilty to justice. Yet he’s open-minded and compassionate and demands the evidence support the charge.
JRL: You’ve fallen in love with the man, haven’t you?
EK (lowering her gaze and blushing): I have. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I married Hank out of gratitude for the way he excepted me and didn’t believe what happened was my fault. He was a good, kind man. But I never really loved him. I thought I might learn to love him in time. I never did. If he hadn’t died, I’d have stayed with him so long as he wanted me.
A retired newspaper editor, J. R. Lindermuth is the author of 15 novels and a non-fiction regional history. His short stories and articles have been published in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and is a past vice president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Since retiring, he has served as librarian of his county historical society where he assists patrons with research and genealogy. He is the father of two children and has four grandsons and three grand-dogs.
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