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Posted on 2014-05-26
Kitty Morland dreamed of easy success when she bought her one-way ticket to New York City, imagining herself in the role of a plucky rags-to-riches heroine who would have the city at her feet with a well-timed laugh. Not that she was a stranger to hard work, but movies had made it seem so simple: she just had to show up and take her pick of the available offers. And so she had packed her bags with her savings, her diploma, the address to the YWCA, and whatever else fit, and boarded a bus headed East.
But real life was harder than the movies. Days of searching for a job had turned into weeks, and people made no job offers. Weeks stretched into a month and longer, and even rejection became harder to come by. Succumbing to desperation or reality, Kitty finally admitted that either she wasn't the heroine of this story, or perhaps her story was not as upbeat as she desired.
She took stock of the situation. She didn't feel like the comedic sidekick and besides, she didn't have a real friend in the city who seemed destined for greater things. She had likewise avoided romantic entanglements, mostly because she didn't spend her money going to places where she could meet guys. This protected her from meeting the type of guy who was always bad news, either leading a string of girlfriends into a life of crime or worse, or requiring years of hard work and sacrifice to reform; she had seen The Lost Weekend and frankly it wasn't worth it.
From there, her options went to two extremes, neither good. In one case, she was a nameless extra who flitted through the background while the real stars spoke actual dialog and experienced real plot. Of course, within the class of extra, there was a most unfortunate kind: the Jane Doe who ended up dead, usually early in the picture, providing just enough clues to lead the detective hero to some other woman, either the heroine who was the intended victim or some dangerous femme fatale.
The only remaining option was the femme fatale herself: the woman with a past, cold, manipulative, and heartless. Kitty knew enough about herself to recognize she didn't fit that role. Not wanting to end up a failed femme fatale or a hapless extra found dead over someone else's opening credits, she caved and begged her brother to get her a job in the Northanger Federated Department Stores.
Jimmy Morland had moved to New York shortly after high school graduation, looking for work. His parents would have preferred him in Madison or even Chicago, but New York was still leaps and bounds above boot camp, considering the two eldest brothers had already enlisted. He had been able to find a job on the sales floor, gradually getting better hours and changing departments when opportunities presented themselves.
Jimmy had balked at the idea of having his sister working for Northanger Federated, where he could run into her in the halls or the cafeteria, where he could overhear rumors about her, or where he would have to acknowledge her existence in any way or defend her honor: it was just too much. A man went to work to escape his family as much as to provide for it. Still, after sufficient needling, a letter from Kitty to their parents, and another letter from Mr. and Mrs. Morland to Jimmy, he had gotten her more than an interview; he had gotten her a job.
In a fit of poor humor, he had found her a position not in the secretarial pool but in the mail room. It was not what she wanted, but it was a lot closer than her growing dejection had allowed her to expect. The job was clearly beneath her but it came with a paycheck and the possibility for advancement, which was better than hoofing it all over town on one pointless interview after another, crashing each night at the YWCA, and watching her meager savings dwindle while she decided if she was hungry enough to eat a sandwich at lunch or if a cup soup would suffice again. It meant that success would not be quick or easy, but it was still attainable. She could still be plucky.
Kitty had a degree from the best secretarial school in Madison. That ought to be enough to get her in the door at any outfit in town. It would work in Wisconsin. Why hadn't it worked in New York? From what Kitty could see, she was no different from any of those other girls, except maybe for her growing desperation. And so, she had swallowed her pride and asked her brother. He didn't want to do it, but when his parents had written to him, he had no choice. Well, that's not completely true. Kitty supposed that if he had wanted to, he could have gotten her a spot in the secretarial pool where she belonged rather than in the mailroom. But beggars can't be choosers, and she had definitely begged.
The wheels of Kitty's mail cart got stuck in the elevator threshold. Who designed the wheels to be small enough to get caught in the elevator? Did this happen to everyone? She gave it an extra firm push to jostle it free and it went shooting into the sixteenth floor lobby, right into a young man who was doing his own rushing around. He nearly flipped into the cart, dropping a folder of papers into the mix and crumbling to the floor with a groan.
Kitty gave a gasp and rushed over to him. "Oh, Mister! I'm so sorry!" The last thing she needed now was to be fired for running over a junior executive.
"It's Henry," he grunted.
"Oh, Mr. Henry, I'm so sorry," she said again. She didn't think she could say it often enough. "You came out of nowhere. I'm so sorry. I didn't see you from the elevator, or I wouldn't have done it." If her brother found out about this, there would be an incendiary letter heading home to Wisconsin.
The man started to say that everything was fine, that it was his own fault for not looking where he was going, but Kitty was too apologetic to let him say much.
"Let me help you up, Mr. Henry," she said, tugging on his arm. "Oh, I'm so sorry."
He seemed to be looking better once she had him upright again, but it also drew attention to the little ways he was not fully recovered. "Oh dear. Can I get you a chair, sir?" She cast her eyes around the lobby, spied a bench and began to drag him over to it. "Here, have a seat, Mr. Henry. Oh, I'm so very sorry about this."
Time began to have its healing effect, and Mr. Henry was able to speak in complete sentences. He was quite articulate and polite when he didn't have the wind knocked out of him. He even sounded posh to Kitty's ears, but most New Yorkers did to a Wisconsinite. She had been working on her accent for months and, while it was no longer deplorable, it still needed lots of work.
"Are you all right? Are you feeling better? Is there anything I can get you, sir? A glass of water?" The questions tumbled out of her faster than a man at the peak of physical fitness could answer them, but she needed to know if she could undo any of the wrong that she had done to him.
"No, no," he said, speaking normally. "I'm almost completely recovered now. That will teach me to go sprinting about the office. There's nothing so important as to deserve a tumble over it." He managed a weak smile that Kitty found quite charming.
"I really am sorry about all this," she apologized again. It looked like he was recovering apace. She felt herself begin to relax.
"Please stop apologizing," he asked her, patting her hand and standing up. "It is as much my fault as yours, and if you insist on saying you are sorry one more time, I'm afraid I'll be forced to throw myself at your feet and your mercy for running into your cart."
"Oh, Mr. Henry, you haven't done anything wrong." She felt a little flustered and couldn't meet his eye. She couldn't recommend him throwing himself to the ground when she had just gotten him up from it.
"I simply cannot agree," he stated. "Nobody's perfect; I've done a number of wrong things. I won't bore you with the complete list, but not looking where I'm going figures more prominently on it than I had realized."
She allowed herself a smile. "Very well. We can share the blame if you wish. If you're feeling better, I suppose I should be on my way. I have deliveries to make."
At this, he seemed to recollect that he, too, was on the clock and had in fact been rushing to someplace important just a few minutes ago. "Yes, of course. And if my doctor should ask, who should I say shares the blame for knocking me down on the way to my meeting?"
"Your doctor!" she exclaimed in alarm. He really did seem to be feeling better.
Before he could explain that it was all a joke, a distinguished older man walked up to them and barked, "Henry!"
Mr. Henry jumped and spun around to face this new person, flustered. Kitty recognized him too: Mr. Tilney, chairman of the board of Northanger Federated.
"Sir!" Mr. Henry blurted out. "I was just on my way to see you."
"Save it," snapped the boss, still in motion. "Change of venue. We're going to Thorpe's office instead. Bring the projections and don't dawdle this time!" With no good-bye to Mr. Henry, and no notice at all of Kitty, he stomped down the hall.
Mr. Henry looked a little pale after this interaction, but Kitty supposed she probably did as well, so she blamed Mr. Tilney for any change to Mr. Henry's health and not her mail cart. They stared at each other, blankly for a moment, then she said, "Good day, Mr. Henry."
"Yes," he said absentmindedly and started to walk off in the direction of the chairman when he suddenly grabbed her hand. "Wait, I don't even know your name!"
Kitty felt her ears grow warm. "I'm Kitty Morland," she said.
They shook hands and parted.
Kitty's mail cart was exactly where she had left it. On the executives' floor, no one wanted to touch such a plebeian tool. She shook her head as she began to push it through the hall to the offices. She had organized the cart before leaving the mailroom in the basement. It wasn't rocket science, as her father would say, to organize the cart before going on her rounds, but it wasn't standard either, and she found that it gave her a late start over the other delivery girls... but she managed to finish before them just the same.
Feeling rather desirous to put this adventure behind her and make up the additional lost time, she walked into the first office. The secretary behind the desk recognized her, but refused to show it. Delivery girls were the lowest of the low, on par with the janitors. They were far beneath the secretaries, and the secretaries made certain that Kitty knew it.
It was definitely a bar to advancement when the people she wanted to become wouldn't acknowledge her, but it did give Kitty some advantages. Because they refused to show that they knew Kitty was there, they continued their conversations and Kitty knew it was only a matter of time before someone let slip an opportunity that would allow her to move out of the basement.
She spent far too much energy eavesdropping on Miss Oliver's end of a phone call and almost no attention at all to the stack of boxes, folders and envelopes she placed on the corner of the desk before pushing her cart back out. She had almost closed the door behind her-- quietly, because Miss Oliver was on the phone-- when the secretary slammed down the receiver and shrieked at her.
"What is this doing here, girl?" She was indignant.
Kitty stopped and reversed her cart. "What's wrong?" she asked. She seemed to be committing more mistakes today than usual. Maybe this floor was just unlucky for her.
"This!" snapped Miss Oliver, waving a folder. "This isn't for Mr. Nelson. You've delivered it to the wrong office."
Kitty came closer and took the folder from the harassed secretary. It wasn't in an interoffice envelope. It didn't look like mail, really, not by the time it got to the mailroom and had been clearly labelled with where it had come from and where it was going. She opened the folders and flipped through the papers inside which were covered in charts and graphs, with notes pencilled in the borders. One prominent note was signed by a large, scripted H.
"Mr. Henry," she breathed, remembering Mr. Tilney's order to bring the projections and don't dawdle. She thought back to shaking Mr. Henry's hand in parting, when it was obviously empty. Had he been holding this folder earlier? Perhaps he had, right before he ran into her cart.
And now he was in Mr. Thorpe's office, without it. Or maybe he was wandering the halls right now, looking for her... or rather, looking for the folder.
"Excuse me, Miss Oliver," she said as an afterthought, struggling to maneuver her cart as quickly as possible back into the hallway and to Mr. Thorpe's office.
She nearly collided with Mr. Henry a second time, but thankfully they were both a little wiser and a little warier from their earlier run-in. She pressed the folder into his hands and he gave her a breathless, "Thank you, Kitty," before sprinting back the way he had come.
As she watched him go, she thought that if he didn't look out for himself, he was going to get hurt!
With Mr. Henry safely in a meeting with Mr. Tilney and the other executives, and most of the secretaries taking advantage of the meeting to be away from their desks, Kitty was able to do her rounds without knocking down anyone else. She rushed a little, trying to make up for lost time, but all hope of getting back on schedule went out the window when she made her deliveries to Miss Peters, Mr. Thorpe's secretary.
She quietly entered the secretary's room, which was empty because Veronica Peters was in Mr. Thorpe's conference room, taking minutes. First, she placed the packages on the desk as always, and then scooped up the envelopes that were to be delivered elsewhere in the building. She did a quick check to make sure the envelopes were properly filled out, then placed them in her cart. As she turned to leave, the door to the conference room burst open and Miss Peters came rushing out. The secretary yanked her trash bin out from underneath her desk and vomited in it. She remained hunched over it until she had completely revisited her breakfast.
Kitty did what she could, which was limited to pressing a glass of water into Miss Peters' hands and fetching the box of tissues. When it became clear that there was nothing left in Miss Peters' stomach, Kitty helped her to her seat.
"Miss Peters, what is going on?" barked an unsympathetic observer. Kitty turned to see Mr. Thorpe in the doorway to the conference room, cigar smoke winding around his head. "Are you done? Can we get back to work?"
Miss Peters wrinkled her nose, then bent again over the trash bin as the acrid smell reached her.
Mr. Thorpe was disgusted. "Well that's just great. Everyone else on the floor is on their gossip break and it will take the secretarial pool an hour to get someone up here."
"I can do it!" piped Kitty. Thorpe looked at her as if she had two heads. "I'm trained as a secretary, sir. I graduated third in my class--"
"Can you take shorthand?" he asked. She nodded.
"Can you read shorthand?" he asked. She nodded again.
"Then get in here," he ordered, then vanished into the other room.
Kitty turned to Miss Peters. "Are you going to be all right?" she asked, suddenly realizing that Miss Peters might need more assistance than Mr. Thorpe.
"I'll be fine," she said, sounding far from it. "It's just that cigar made me sick. I couldn't take it anymore."
"Is it okay if I fill in for you?" The last thing Kitty wanted to do was ruin her chances at Northanger Federated by offending the wrong secretary, but Miss Peters just waved her away miserably.
Kitty darted across the room and shut the door behind her. This was a huge opportunity, if only she didn't ruin it.
She looked around the table, recognizing Mr. Thorpe and Mr. Tilney and a few other senior board members sitting there. Mr. Henry was standing in front of a large pad of paper with scaled-up charts from the folder he had lost earlier. He met her eyes when she walked in, looking bewildered.
She hoped he wasn't worried for her sake, then realized that would be better than for him to be concerned for his own sake.
She found Miss Peters' pad and pen and read through the last few lines. Veronica Peters had lovely penmanship -- so clear and flowing -- until it suddenly turned into a scrawl and ended abruptly.
"Now, where were we, Henry?" gruffed Mr. Tilney.
Henry turned his wide eyes to the chairman. Clearly written across his face was the fact that he had no idea where they had left off.
Kitty cleared her throat. "Mr. Nelson asked about the expansion into Southern California," she prompted. There was a general creak of leather as six men swivelled in their chairs to look disapprovingly at her. Secretaries, like children, should be seen and not heard. She didn't notice them. Mr. Henry smiled and nodded.
"Yes, precisely," he was back in form again. That was all the cue he needed. "Southern California has quite a different market from the North..."
Kitty marked her notes on the pad, not thinking too deeply about what was being discussed. Long ago, she had found that she could write faster if she didn't take the time to understand what was being said. It was a bit of a paradox: how could she write about it if she didn't understand it? Still, distractions could cost her dearly and she didn't want to miss a word. She purposely kept her attention focused on the meeting and what was being said.
The meeting finally broke up two hours later. Kitty's hand was cramping and she was anxious with relief. Waiting until the men disbanded through Mr. Thorpe's office in case there was some eleventh hour epiphany, she disappeared through the door to Miss Peters' room. Ronnie Peters was not there but a girl, Lillian, from the secretarial pool, was finishing up a phone call.
"Where is Miss Peters?" asked Kitty with concern.
"She went home, sick," answered the girl with camaraderie until she recognized Kitty as a delivery girl and not a sister secretary. "I'll take those," she said, reaching a hand toward Kitty's notes. "I'm sure Mr. Thorpe will want them typed up as soon as possible."
Speaking of the devil, the man himself came back through the open door. "Miss--" he said, snapping his fingers at Kitty.
"Morland, sir," she answered. "Kitty Morland."
"Miss Morland," he repeated, "thank you. And you--" he now turned his attention to the girl at the desk.
"Lillian Jones," she supplied.
"Jones?" he repeated. "Any connection to Frank Jones?" Mr. Jones was another member of the board.
"No sir," answered Lillian, preening. "Just a lucky coincidence."
"Good to know," he looked at her warmly. "Have Miss Morland's notes typed on my desk before two o'clock." With that, he returned to the cigar haze and his office.
Kitty grimaced sympathetically. There was no way Lillian was eating lunch today.
Lillian stuck out her tongue and snarled that she would have a much easier time of it if Kitty's shorthand was more legible. Kitty looked at the sample that had so offended Lillian: it was Miss Peters' notes from the beginning of the meeting. It was on the tip of her tongue to say something but she didn't. Not wanted to give offense, she said instead that she hoped Miss Peters was feeling better tomorrow.
As she pushed her mail cart down the hall, Kitty realized that it was in Lillian's best interest for Miss Peters to stay sick.
While she waited for the elevator, she hoped that Mr. Henry would run into her again, but less violently this time. It was not meant to be. The elevator came before he could dash into view, which was just as well. She should have been back in the mailroom hours ago.
When she finally wheeled in the cart, there were jeers all around. Miss Henderson glared at her and ordered her into her office. The room wasn't soundproof, but if Miss Henderson wanted to lambaste her, Kitty could pretend she had some privacy for it.
Indeed, Miss Henderson began the wind up to an epic dressing-down when one of the other girls burst in to announce, "Mr. Tilney is on the phone for you, ma'am!"
Miss Henderson glared at Kitty but picked up the handset. When the chairman called, the mailroom answered.
Kitty couldn't hear what was said on the other end of the phone, and Miss Henderson gave out nothing but cryptic "yes sirs" and "no sirs". With a final withering glare at Kitty, Miss Henderson hung up the phone.
"Well, Miss Morland," she began with her mouth pressed in a thin, unforgiving line. "It appears that Mr. Tilney wanted to call and thank you for stepping in today when Miss Peters became ill. Apparently, a presentation would have suffered an unconscionable delay had you not been on hand."
Kitty felt a rush of relief at being spared. "It was--"
"It was nothing," said Miss Henderson firmly. "Do not let the idea get to your head."
"What idea, ma'am?" asked Kitty.
Posted on 2014-05-29
Mavis Allen had been throwing significant looks at Kitty since she stepped out of Miss Henderson's office. Miss Allen was dying of curiosity. Unfortunately, there was nothing to do but wait until they were on the subway, speeding uptown to Pulteney Street. She attempted to get Kitty in a quiet corner of the mailroom before then, but the mailroom had no such thing.
Mavis was her roommate and her new best friend and, as such, deserved to know anything interesting that happened to Kitty. Anything less than full disclosure was unfair. Honestly, anything less than artful embellishment over the boring bits was a little unfair.
Mavis had befriended Kitty on her first day a couple of weeks ago, and Kitty's life was the better for it. Just last weekend, she had helped Kitty move out of the YWCA and into the Pulteney house. Not that it was a big move; Kitty had come to New York with two suitcases that she could carry herself onto the bus, but to have the help was marvelous.
Mavis was living in the Pulteney house all alone. The true owners, the Hudsons, were "across the pond" in Europe for the summer, and while some of the servants travelled with the Hudsons, others were allowed to take a holiday and see their own families which meant that somebody had to look after the old pile of bricks. Mavis was the chauffeur's niece and that connection had got her the job. She slept in the servants' quarters and ate in the kitchen, and generally stayed out of the rest of the house although she had to do patrol once in the morning and once again in the evening to adjust the curtains and get the paper and dust the stoop, the sort of things that would convince bad elements that the house was not empty and unguarded. It was lonely, and the house made odd noises at night from the pipes and what-not. Mavis said she felt as paranoid as Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight living there by herself, and she was thrilled when Kitty had accepted her offer to move in until the owners returned.
Kitty could barely imagine such a life as the Hudsons must lead: summering in Europe; chauffeurs and maids and cooks; fresh flowers that kept appearing even though there was no one to enjoy them; paintings and vases in every room; and the clothes that they left behind in their closets! Was there anything more divine? She had to admit that the house would be lonely for just one person but that Mavis had asked her to join her had won Kitty's loyalty for all time, and if that meant that she had to gossip with Mavis... Well she was going to gossip with someone anyway, why not Mavis?
Kitty was glad for the respite, however. It let her collect her thoughts. If she spoke them, they would scatter away and she really wanted to hold onto them until they sank in. Mr. Henry had been, frankly, amazing. Compared to any other man on the top floor, he was the one she would've wanted to run over with the mail cart. Anyone else would have fired her on the spot, she realized. Men who think highly of themselves do not like reminders that they are so normal and vulnerable. It's undignified.
She thought back to the callous treatment of Miss Peters by Mr. Thorpe and shuddered. Kitty really hoped Miss Peters wasn't very sick, and that she would put in a good word for Kitty with the other secretaries. Mr. Thorpe was certainly important and powerful, but he had not been kind. Kitty shook her head. It was not Mr. Thorpe's job to be kind. He had to worry about all sorts of things that Kitty didn't know about. Maybe he felt sorry for Miss Peters later, when he had more time to think about it. Kitty decided not to be hasty in her judgement. Besides, if Miss Peters was sick and had to be out for days or even weeks, Kitty would still take the job as Mr. Thorpe's temporary secretary in a heartbeat. Sometimes, a deal was too good to refuse.
Five o'clock finally arrived and, with it, chaos as everyone attempted to leave at once. Mavis and Kitty typically slowed their steps a bit to avoid the crush but not today. Mavis was growing more and more eager to know what had happened, now that word had circulated that Miss Henderson had received a call about Kitty from Mr. Tilney himself. Kitty was not inclined to alter their routine, but Mavis got a strong hold of her elbow and jostled them both through the crowds to the subway.
The waiting subway car was already packed and the two girls had to stand the 20 blocks to their stop. Mavis kept asking for details every time they got a little more breathing room, but Kitty recognized Miss Carmichael from the gloves counter in their car and wouldn't say a word.
When they finally exited the car, Mavis had just about given up on getting any details and had begun to abuse her friend for being so tight-lipped. "This isn't fair," she said, her voice hurt. "I'm your best friend and you won't even tell me what happened. I took you in, put a roof over your head, and this is how you repay me!"
"I'll tell you," Kitty whispered. "I just didn't want to say anything in front of someone else from Northanger Federated. I didn't want it getting around."
"Well, why didn't you say so?" Mavis was slightly offended, but the affront was lessening.
"I ran into someone with my mail cart today, up on the executive floor," she began. "Knocked him flat."
Mavis gasped with just the right amount of concern. "Who was it?"
"He said his last name was Henry," answered Kitty. "Do you know him?"
Mavis shook her head after a moment's reflection. "Never heard of him. Maybe he's from out of town? They're always flying people in from all over the place. They had a guy from England up there a few months ago."
Kitty chewed her lip. "That makes sense, I guess. He had some projections about expanding into California."
"California!" Mavis latched onto that idea. "Oh, how I would love to move to California! All those movie stars, and summer all year long."
Kitty could not agree. She had just moved to New York and wasn't ready to go anywhere else.
"Wait a minute," said Mavis suddenly. "You knocked him flat? Is that how you got in trouble? Oh, Kitty, what did he do to deserve that?"
Kitty was forced to explain how she had met Mr. Henry. By the time she described handing him back his folder, they were in the kitchen, pulling a casserole out of the refrigerator. But Kitty wasn't done with her tale. There was still Miss Peters and Mr. Thorpe, and she was able to stretch that out while the oven warmed their dinner. Mavis was the perfect audience, gasping in all the right spots and offering all sorts of encouragement.
"So how lucky was it that Mr. Tilney called Miss Henderson right before she told you off?"
Kitty could only marvel at the timing. "He didn't save me so much as delay the inevitable. Miss Henderson really wanted to tear into me and I don't think Mr. Tilney talked her out of it."
Kitty listened to Mavis describe her own day which they both agreed was not as exciting. Finishing their meal, they went on their routine walk through the house, twitching the curtains and flickering the lights, then settled back in the kitchen to read through the evening paper and listen to the radio until it was time to turn in.
The next day, Kitty kept her head down, trying to work her way back into Miss Henderson's good graces. Miss Peters was back at her desk looking peaked but she smiled wanly in thanks to Kitty's inquiries.
"It was that horrible cigar," she maintained. "I felt fine until he started smoking it. After that-- ugh-- I never knew I could feel that sick." She made a face, then shook her head. "But thanks for taking notes for me. Lily said she had a tough time with them, but I think she was faking it. Either that or she doesn't know how to do her job because they looked clear to me when I came in this morning."
Kitty was not so blind as not to realize that this was an opportunity, if only she could take advantage of it. "Well, if you need someone to fill in for you any time, just let me know. I'm eager to move up to the pool."
She was too eager. Miss Peters gave her a cool yet sympathetic look. "I'm afraid there's nothing I can do."
Kitty sighed. It certainly felt like an opportunity ruined. She turned to go, then changed her mind. Miss Peters might not be able or willing to help her career ambitions, but perhaps she could satisfy her curiosity.
"Excuse me, Miss Peters," she said. "One more thing: is Mr. Henry in town from California?"
Whatever the answer might have been, it was forgotten when Mr. Thorpe barrelled into the room. He started barking questions to his secretary without noticing anyone else was there. Kitty took it as a sign, and left.
She didn't see Mr. Henry that day, or the next, or for an entire week. She did, however, befriend Miss Peters, who finally insisted on being called Ronnie. The two would chat briefly during Kitty's deliveries. It was never long enough to put her off her schedule and attract attention from Miss Henderson, but it slowly established a rapport between them. Ronnie even invited her out for drinks with a crowd after work one night. It wasn't completely uncoerced; Kitty had shown up with her mail cart while Miss Oliver was issuing the invitation to Ronnie, who in turn felt obligated to pass it on to Kitty. From the sour look on Miss Oliver's face, she obviously did not want to spend her valuation free time with delivery girls, so Kitty politely begged off with a, "maybe next time."
In truth, she and Mavis had plans to go to the movies that night, and Kitty was not sure if push came to shove that she would insist that Mavis come too, or what she would do when Miss Oliver refused.
She had the bad luck to run into her brother on the way back to the mailroom.
"What's this I hear about you running down executives up on the top floor?" he began without preamble.
Kitty rolled her eyes and scoffed. "I don't know where you heard that story, but I didn't do the running."
Jimmy glared at her, then gave her a lecture about how to behave, and what was acceptable and unacceptable behavior. "And you can bet rolling over guys in suits is unacceptable," he concluded.
She ignored him as well as she could, and when they reached the doors of the mailroom, he peeled away to get back to his errands.
Kitty couldn't wait until five o'clock when she could share the news of her invitation with Mavis, who was just as excited as Kitty about it. "If they ask you, you have to go!" she exclaimed.
"I couldn't go without you," Kitty said. "That wouldn't be fair."
"Fair, shmair," dismissed Mavis. "You can pay me back by telling me all about it. Even better, tell me where you're going ahead of time and I can crash it."
Kitty giggled, and said she would think about it.
The next morning, she stopped by Ronnie's desk early. Ronnie was nursing a bad headache, trying to minimize the pain caused by light and sound.
Kitty tried to act worldly about it. She had gone out for a couple drinks once or twice in Madison but she had never really let herself go before. She tried to be unobtrusive, but she wanted to hear about the night out.
"I don't recall having that much to drink at the club, but I feel awful. I shouldn't have come to work today," groaned Ronnie.
Kitty frowned in friendly sympathy.
Thorpe barged into the room, a cigar clenched between his teeth, already issuing orders for the morning. Ronnie's nose twitched, then her entire face puckered, and then she vomited in the trash bin again.
Kitty was aghast, but in an instant her caring instincts took over and she rushed to get the tissues and glass of water as she had done the last time.
Thorpe looked at them both, horrified. "Peters, what is wrong with you?" he demanded, coming further into the secretary's office and bringing that horrible smoke with him. Miss Peters' stomach provided the answer.
"It's your cigar, sir," Kitty tried explaining. "I think she's allergic to it."
"Allergic to a cigar?" repeated Mr. Thorpe incredulously. "Who ever heard of anything so stupid? Peters, I demand that you stop that this instant."
It was an easier thing to order than to fulfill. After waiting an ungenerous second, he wheeled at Kitty. "You," he snapped his fingers, "take her to the Ladies. I want her out of my office while she's acting like this; it'll stink up the place. Then get back in here. London is calling me in two minutes and I need a secretary."
Kitty complied, nearly shaking as hard as Ronnie Peters. As they walked through the hall carrying the trash bin between them, they passed Miss Oliver, who then abandoned her errand to follow them. Leaving Ronnie in Miss Oliver's competent hands, Kitty raced back to Mr. Thorpe's office. The phone was already ringing and she answered it breathlessly.
"Mr. Salisbury for Mr. Thorpe," came the tinny, clipped announcement.
"Yes ma'am," said Kitty. "Mr. Thorpe is expecting the call. I'll put you right through." Then she stared at the line of buttons on the telephone and bit her lip. She hadn't worked an office phone since before she left Wisconsin, and never one that looked like this.
The buttons were all labelled, but they were effectively labelled in hieroglyphics. The blinking light she knew was the call from London, and the number keypad was obvious, but what of the button marked "XF"? And what about the one marked "JT"? If she lost this call, what would Mr. Thorpe do to her? Would the secretary in London know to dial her again?
Kitty took a deep breath, and pushed a button at random. The line went silent; it was not exactly a good sign, but it was not completely discouraging. Suddenly realizing that "JT" must stand for John Thorpe, she pressed that button next. There was a moment of sickening silence then she heard the phone ringing in Mr. Thorpe's private office.
She hung up the receiver and sank into Miss Peters chair, exhaling deeply and wiping the sweat from her palms.
The respite was short-lived. The intercom crackled and Mr. Thorpe's voice commanded, "Peters, get in here."
Kitty jumped up to obey. Mr. Thorpe knew that Ronnie Peters was in no condition to work, but he couldn't be expected to remember Kitty's name from more than a week ago, especially considering he had never learned it to begin with.
She grabbed a pencil and steno-pad and hurried forward. Quickly opening and shutting the inner office door, she slipped into a seat by his desk.
"Peters," he snapped and pointed his fingers at her. "Take notes for us."
Kitty could only nod before Mr. Thorpe launched into a long and loud dialogue with the Englishman on the speakerphone. An hour later, the men were finally hoarse enough wrap up the call with a list of action items and an agreement to call again the same time next week.
"Have Peters speak with Diane about what's needed on my end tomorrow," said Mr. Salisbury, and rung off.
Thorpe dropped the handset into position and helped himself to a drink.
Assuming she was dismissed, Kitty stood up and moved to the door.
"Shall I check on Miss Peters for you, sir?" she asked. Mr. Thorpe might not remember to be thoughtful on his own, but surely he would be so when prompted.
He grunted and looked at her intently, as if trying to commit her to memory. "What was your name again?"
Kitty smiled: he remembered her! "It's Morland, sir. Miss Kitty Morland."
He looked her up and down. "Miss Morland, where are you from?"
"Wisconsin," she volunteered. She would have gone into detail, starting with the hospital she was born in and ending with the lake house she visited with her family every summer, but he pre-empted her.
"How long have you been in New York?"
"You know how to be a secretary?"
"Shorthand? Typing?" he asked, beginning to fire questions at her rapidly.
Kitty could only nod in response or squeak out an answer before he was onto the next question. By the end of it, Kitty wasn't sure what question she was agreeing to, or even how Mr. Thorpe could keep everything straight in his head.
"You'll do," he said at last, to which Kitty only nodded.
He stood there, still and silent for a moment. "Well, what are you waiting for?"
Kitty thought back on what she had said, trying to figure out what came next. "Did you want me to find out about Miss Peters?" she asked, feeling stupid.
"I want you," he said with authority, "to replace her."
Kitty blanched. "Oh, sir! You're not going to fire her, surely. She's just a little under the weather." Kitty didn't know a fancy euphemism for hungover, and she didn't think Mr. Thorpe would be forgiving about it either.
"She's been under the weather for over a week now," he announced coldly. "If I don't send her away, she's going to get the whole floor sick. Is that what you want: secretaries and men dropping like flies?"
He was normally loud, but he seemed even louder now. Kitty shook her head and muttered a meek, "no, sir."
"Then it's settled." He began to leave the office and Kitty trailed behind him in an eddy. "Arrange it with McAvoy to move you up here permanently. Or at least until--"
He stopped at the threshold of Miss Peter's office. Behind the desk sat Lillian Jones, slowly pecking at the typewriter.
"Who are you?" he barked without preamble.
"I'm Miss Jones," said Lillian sweetly. "Mrs. McAvoy has sent me up as Miss Peters' replacement."
"Well, I'm sending you back down. Miss Peters already has a replacement." He jerked a thumb at Kitty to make it more obvious.
Lillian's eyes grew wide with outrage. "But she's just a delivery girl!" There was contempt in her tone.
"She's a better secretary than you," he told her flatly. "Now scram."
"Sir, you can't do that!"
At that outburst, Mr. Thorpe became violently still and glared at her with such intensity than Lillian quailed. "This is my office. No one can tell me what I can or can't do in my office. Get out." His voice was strained with quiet menace.
With a trembling lip, Miss Jones picked up her bag and scurried to the door. She threw one last dark look at Kitty and then departed, shutting the door with the softest click.
The encounter left Kitty shaken, but Mr. Thorpe shook it off and began issuing commands. "Call McAvoy. Tell her that I've assigned you as Miss Peters' replacement. And tell her to keep that Jones broad off my floor." He returned to his office, shutting the door with finality.
Kitty jumped to do his bidding, sitting behind the desk and poising her fingers over the rolodex. Then she exclaimed to remember Miss Peters, and ran off in search of her.
Kitty found her in the Ladies' room, curled into a ball on a cushioned bench, her face devoid of makeup and her eyes red from crying. Miss Oliver was with her, pacing with her hands angrily on her hips.
"There you are!" said Kitty, unnecessarily. "Are you feeling better?"
"Does it look like she's feeling better?" snapped Miss Oliver. At the sharp tone, Ronnie looked like she might start crying anew.
"Sorry, I--" Kitty stuttered. "I just hoped she was okay."
"She'll be better," said Miss Oliver, her heels clacking on the tile like a predator, "in about nine months."
Even Kitty, naive as she was, could understand what was meant. At least Mr. Thorpe had no reason to fear that Miss Peters' condition was contagious.
"I know someone who can help you take care of that problem," continued Miss Oliver. "A week-- two at most-- and you'll be back to normal. Like it never happened." There was something in her tone what would be coldness in anyone else, but actually passed for warmth coming from her.
"That's not how I was raised," said Ronnie, keeping her eyes downcast.
Oliver rolled her eyes. "The time to remember that is before you got into this mess." When Ronnie said nothing, Miss Oliver whirled to face her. "You should have known better. What did you think was going to happen?"
Ronnie drew in a shaky breath. "I need to talk with Mr. Thorpe."
Kitty stared at her wide-eyed. "I don't think that's a good idea. Perhaps you should take the rest of the day off, and come back tomorrow?" Miss Jones had set Mr. Thorpe on a rampage. Whatever Miss Peters wanted to tell him would not be well-received today.
Miss Oliver threw up her hands. "Even the delivery girl gets it!"
Ronnie slowly got up, unsteady in everything but purpose. "I'm going to see Mr. Thorpe now." She gave Kitty a questioning look. "Come with me, please?"
Kitty couldn't say no, not exactly. She couldn't say no, but when it came to walking into Mr. Thorpe's office at Ronnie's side, she had to draw a line. Still, she accompanied her friend down the hall to the office where Mr. Thorpe sat unprepared for this interview.
As they reached the outer door, Kitty turned to Miss Peters. "Are you sure you want me to go in with you? Wouldn't you rather be alone with him?"
Veronica Peters knew that she had spent too much time alone with John Thorpe already, but now the damage was done, what did another fifteen minutes matter? She nodded and entered alone.
Kitty stood in the hall, wondering how much time was needed, and wishing she had her delivery cart to complete her morning rounds while she waited. As she balanced on one foot and then the other, she heard the telephone behind the door. After listening to it ring five times, she scampered in and answered it. "Northanger Federated, this is Mr. Thorpe's office," she said in a rush.
It was someone from the fourth floor, trying to get on his calendar for next week. She checked the appointment book and was able to reserve half an hour for him, so he rung off gratefully. She began to hear noises from the inner office: one voice rising in anger and a dim undercurrent of weeping.
Just as Kitty had decided to retreat to the hall, Mr. Thorpe's ranting rose to its final crescendo and his inner office door flung open with force. He stormed through the opening, his face purple with rage. Miss Peters followed a few paces behind, her handkerchief obscuring her face and muffling her tears. Thorpe opened the outer door and moved aside so that Miss Peters could pass. When she did, he forcefully slammed the door behind her.
The noise made Kitty jump, but Mr. Thorpe just stalked back to his office. As he reach the threshold, he shouted back at her, "And make sure McAvoy hears about Peters. I don't want to see her again."
Posted on 2014-06-02
Kitty came into work with an odd mix of elation and fear. This would be her first official day as Mr. Thorpe's secretary and there was no turning back from here. Miss Henderson had told her, in no uncertain terms, that there would be no space for her in the mail room when Miss Peters came back although Kitty doubted if Miss Peters would ever come back. Still, Mr. Thorpe had shown a volatile nature, more Jimmy Cagney than Jimmy Stewart; she might still end up unemployed and back at the YWCA by the end of the month.
Mavis had stayed up with her half the night, talking about the events of the previous day. There had been a lot to dissect and digest. Kitty had done what she could to swear Mavis to secrecy. She couldn't bear the thought of Miss Peters' situation becoming general gossip. There would be plenty of speculation as it was and she hoped Mavis kept her word.
That morning, Kitty dressed with unusual care and spent an extra quarter-hour on her hair. Mavis had helped, trying to recreate a style they had seen at the movies, but they didn't quite have the knack for it yet. She was unprepared to be blindsided by her brother who caught up with her as she was punching her timecard.
"Hey, you ingrate!" he called to her. "What's this I hear you threw away the job I got you? You're making us both look bad."
She didn't explain it to her brother, not when he would intentionally misunderstand her, so she kept moving towards the elevators that would take her up to the executive floor as Jimmy continued to harangue her. He would have talked non-stop until after she was gone, had not Miss Oliver joined their group.
At a look from her, he fell silent. It was a neat trick, and Kitty wished she had the nerve to learn it one day. Miss Oliver had a quality about her that made men shut up and take notice. She wasn't exactly Barbara Stanwyck but she was the closest to a femme fatale that Kitty had seen at Northanger.
"Who's your admirer, Morland?" came the cold, disinterested greeting. It was something of a coup that Miss Oliver even admitted to knowing her name.
"This is my brother Jimmy, Miss Oliver."
"James Morland, ma'am, at your service," grinned Jimmy, extending his hand to her. Miss Oliver was out of his league by a mile, but he was nothing if not an optimist when it came to himself.
Oliver looked at his hand then looked away, a veritable ice queen. "Please don't touch me. I wouldn't want a rash."
Jimmy turned white, then glared murderously at his sister. "You can bet they'll hear about this back home," he warned and stalked off. Kitty tried to hide her laughter but it came out as a snicker just the same. Oliver frowned at her outburst which dulled the mirth, and Kitty was able to board the elevator with the serious air that Northanger Federated expected from its executive secretaries.
At each floor, the car grew less crowded until it was just the two of them on the way to the top floor.
"Thanks," said Kitty at last, "for dealing with my brother back there."
Miss Oliver blinked. "I didn't know I was helping," she said simply.
The rest of her morning went the same way, with Kitty mistaking neglect for friendship.
At 8:30 sharp, Mr. Thorpe called her into his office. When she appeared with pad and pencil in hand, he rudely sent her back for his appointment book so that they could review his day. When that was over, she stood up to leave and he exclaimed in disgust, "You're wearing that?"
She looked down at her clothes, wondering if she had spilled something on her blouse or had a run in her nylons. Seeing no obvious mistake in her outfit, she looked back at him in dismay. "What's wrong with it, sir?"
"You look like you belong in the mailroom," he chastised. "It's embarrassing. Don't you have anything better?"
This was her best outfit, barring a sequined party dress she had back in Wisconsin that was not appropriate for the office. She had agonized over her clothes this morning, and had even borrowed a pair of heels from Mavis. There was simply no way for her to look better.
She stammered an apology as he got up from behind his desk and approached her. A wave of terror that he was going to throw her out washed over her, but her merely pulled a billfold out of his breast pocket and fished some money out of it.
"Here's fifty bucks," he said, handing her some crisp bills. "I can't afford a secretary that looks like what the cat dragged in."
"I can't accept your money, Mr. Thorpe," she protested.
"You got money of your own?" The thought hadn't occurred to him; if she had money, surely she would have spent it by now.
"No, I don't," Kitty admitted. The truth was that most of her last few checks had gone back to Wisconsin to pay for her younger sister's tuition to the Madison Secretarial College.
Thorpe then held the money closer to his chest. "Can you pay me back?" he asked, as cautious as a shark.
Kitty shook her head. "That's not it, sir. I just don't want to take money from my boss."
Thorpe couldn't believe it. "You won't take my money?" he asked, arrogantly incredulous. "You ever cash a paycheck? Whose money do you think that is?"
In the rational part of her mind, she doubted the money was Mr. Thorpe's, but she felt the trap as it sprang and laughed nervously at herself. "Gee, Mr. Thorpe, I never thought of it that way before."
He glared at her as if she was a simpleton and thrust the money at her. She tried to intercept him, but she still felt his hand against her chest before he would release his gift.
"Go down to the second floor after you get off and buy yourself a couple nice dresses," he instructed her. "If you don't look the part tomorrow, I'm sending you back down to the pool." It was as if he had forgotten that she came from the mailroom; there was no secretarial pool for her to return to, or mailroom either, for that matter.
Kitty pasted on a smile, and showed herself out. When she sat at her desk, she realized her hands were shaking. She wondered briefly how Ronnie Peters did this job. Then she remembered that Miss Peters had always looked so well put together, until she had started to get sick. If Mr. Thorpe was not a villain -- and it was important for Kitty's sake that he was not -- he was still very hard to figure out.
Determined to focus on what she could understand, she turned to her work. She had to call Diana Selvig in London. She would talk with Mavis after work to see if her friend had some advice.
During her morning break, it occurred to her that Miss Oliver might be able to guide her, so Kitty went first to her office adjacent to Mr. Nelson's but she wasn't there. Kitty finally found her gossiping at Miss Girard's desk.
Oliver stood up, suddenly silent, as Kitty approached. When it became clear that Kitty was there to see her, she turned to the other woman and said, "Girard, let me introduce you to Morland, Peters' replacement."
It was not a warm welcome but it was the only one available. "I think I need some help with Mr. Thorpe," Kitty blurted out, anxious for help.
Oliver rolled her eyes and muttered a quick farewell to Miss Girard and started walking off. Kitty looked from Girard to Oliver, not knowing what to do, before she sputtered a quick goodbye one and chased after the other.
"Miss Oliver, Miss Oliver," Kitty said when she caught up with her. "I'm sorry to bother you but--"
Oliver whirled to face her, pointing a red lacquered finger at her. "This is your first morning. You got yourself into this situation. You get yourself out. Even if it means you move back to Michigan."
"I know," said Kitty, "but it's just that I don't know--"
"Then buy a bus ticket." Miss Oliver walked off.
Kitty snuck down to the mailroom and had an emergency powwow with Mavis who was able to convince her to do nothing drastic until they had gone home and thought about it. When she returned to her desk, Miss Girard was waiting for her. She kept the topic solely to basic secretarial functions, and spoke with efficiency rather than kindness, but Kitty was extremely thankful and barely kept her gratitude in check.
After five o'clock, Kitty met Mavis in the Dresses Department. Mavis proved invaluable at shopping, hunting the sale rack and driving bargains from the clerks beyond the Northanger Federated employee discount. After spending all of Mr. Thorpe's money on a week's worth of suitable outfits, they took the subway home and Kitty was finally able to spill the morning's details.
Mavis, unfortunately, was as inexperienced as Kitty and had nothing to offer, other than to, "Be careful," and to, "Watch yourself," both of which Kitty was wise enough to conclude on her own. How to handle Mr. Thorpe was as much beyond Mavis as it was beyond Kitty. If only Miss Oliver would guide her! Kitty frowned; Miss Oliver would probably guide her off a bridge.
But a new dress was amazing for softening one's outlook, and Kitty had a much easier time with her hair the next morning. It wasn't perfect. She was far beneath her idols of Miss Peters and Miss Oliver, but she didn't look like a delivery girl anymore. With another pair of borrowed heels, she had a spring in her step as she managed to avoid her brother and everyone else who might speak a disparaging word until she bounced out of the elevator onto the executive floor.
It was starting to feel normal, the route to her new desk. She could almost feel the sun shining through the building. If she could avoid Mr. Thorpe all morning, it would be a perfect Friday.
As she skipped through the hallway, she practically ran into someone she had almost forgotten about.
"Mr. Henry!" she exclaimed from his arms.
"Miss Kitty," he replied before giving her back the space he had unwittingly taken from her. "I hope you're alright."
"Oh, I'm swell," she said, because that's how she suddenly felt. "But, oh, Mr. Henry! I keep running into you. I'm so sorry."
"You must allow me to have some of the fault of it, Miss Kitty. Unless you make a habit of running into everyone?"
Kitty shook her head. "Oh no. You're the only one who is so dashing..." The words died in her throat and she felt her face burn red. "I mean, you're the only one who dashes--"
Henry laughed and patted her elbow. "No, don't correct it. I prefer the original. It makes me sound less irresponsible." There was no contempt for her in his tone, no lack of respect or esteem. There may not have been admiration either, but Kitty didn't mind it. He smiled at her and she didn't know what to think other than she had a crush on Mr. Henry.
He looked her up and down then rested his chin in his hand. "There's something different about you today. What is it?"
Feeling unquestionably girlish, she gave him a twirl. The hem of her new skirt rose a little before fluttering back down. "Can you guess?" she challenged him with a laugh.
He eyed her again, slowly, trying to puzzle it out. "Did you get your hair cut?" he asked at length.
Kitty could only shake her head again. Her hair was styled differently, but she had yet to ask Mavis to cut it.
"New shoes?" he ventured. While they were new to her, Mavis had owned them for ages and a closer inspection would show wear.
"No, Mr. Henry!" she said, unable to keep it in any longer. "No mail cart! I'm not a delivery girl anymore." She felt so proud, not even Miss Oliver could deflate her now.
Mr. Henry was pleasantly stunned. "But how is that possible? Did things go badly in the mailroom?"
"No, nothing like that. Mr. Tilney even called down to put in a good word for me. But Miss Peters got sick and Mr. Thorpe needed a replacement right away, and I was already on the floor so he picked me."
From the look on his face, whatever he was about to say left him and some of the good nature shed from his features, revealing seriousness. "You're working for Thorpe? How long will Veronica be out, do you think?"
Now it was Kitty's turn to lose some of her brightness. Naturally he was concerned with Miss Peters' welfare and would no doubt display a similar attention for anyone on the floor but she couldn't help wondering how personally interested he was.
"I don't know. I hope she'll be back soon, but who knows?" She knew the real reason but she couldn't share it with him. She didn't feel comfortable yet in stating why she thought Miss Peters was never returning. Mavis had not reported that news of Miss Peters' situation had spread throughout the building, and Kitty wouldn't speak of it unless everyone else already knew.
"Do you keep in touch with her?" he asked. "If there's anything I can do--"
"Peters!" roared Mr. Thorpe as he marched through the hallway. "In my office! Now!"
Kitty jumped and rushed to answer the summons meant for her. "Goodbye, Mr. Henry," she called over her shoulder as she scurried away.
Thorpe was in a foul mood, but seeing her well-dressed and well-coifed as he had commanded was a balm of him. "That's my girl," he beamed with pride. He praised and petted her, patting the collar of her dress and checking the quality of the fabric until Kitty felt excruciatingly uncomfortable.
The morning briefing went as it had the day before, except Kitty had the appointment book ready. Again, Mr. Thorpe felt obligated to compliment her in that cruel way of his. She was turning out to be a quick learner which was great because he would not enjoy picking out another new secretary so soon after losing Peters.
The weekly board meeting started at 10 o'clock and Thorpe had to talk about the expansion in England, which meant providing a summary of his most recent call to London. Kitty had already been pulling files for him the day before, organizing notes, taking dictation and otherwise putting together his presentation. This morning was a continuation of the same, putting a final polish on it before running to down to the print shop next to the mailroom. She snuck into the mailroom to see Mavis while she waited for the boys to finish making the copies, then made it back upstairs with barely enough time for Mr. Thorpe to thumb through the stack of papers before he went to the meeting. Mr. Tilney was hosting it in his conference room today, and Miss Girard was in charge of taking the minutes.
This left Kitty and the other secretaries free to catch up on their work or their news, depending on their druthers. Social in nature, Kitty would have preferred to spend it with friends but there just weren't any friends for her yet on this floor, and she didn't think it was safe to go sneaking off to the mailroom.
Wisely, she spent the time practicing with the phone and intercom, and learning more of Miss Peter's filing system, which didn't seem at all related to what she had learned at Madison.
She had just looked at her watch and decided to head down to the lunchroom to meet Mavis when Mr. Thorpe sauntered in. There was a general air if untidiness and ease about him as if he had not a care in the world and was inclined to be generous with all.
"Peters," he said on a loud, friendly voice, "what's your real name?"
"It's Morland, sir. Kitty Morland."
"Morland, Kitty Morland," he repeated with glee. "Well, be a good kitty and come to lunch with us."
She felt a frisson of worry. "I'm sorry, sir, but I already have plans for lunch. I'm meeting someone."
"Is it a man?" inquired Thorpe nosily. A thundercloud began to form on his brow.
Kitty reluctantly admitted, "No."
Thorpe was all ease and cheer again. "Then he won't mind. Get your bag and let's go. I don't want to keep Tilney waiting."
Kitty stammered and Mr. Tilney himself walked in. "Thorpe, let's go. The cab should be waiting by the time we get down stairs."
That was all the confirmation her boss needed. "You heard him, Kitten. Let's go." He snapped his fingers and pointed toward the door.
"But I can't, sir," she whined.
Two powerful men glared at her and she felt herself quail. If they ordered her to go with them, it would not be in her power to refuse them.
Mr. Tilney spoke first. "Then you're not coming. The cab will be crowded enough as it is. Let's go, Thorpe." In his mind, Kitty was already dismissed.
"I'm driving you home tonight," Thorpe announced, unwilling to concede a loss.
"No thank you, sir," Kitty attempted to be polite. "I always take the subway back to Pulteney Street."
"Pulteney Street?" repeated Mr. Tilney with a new gleam of interest in his eye.
Kitty nodded mutely. It was far more unnerving to be worthy of the chairman's attention than not. Tilney regarded her for another moment, then abruptly turned and left the room, his interest in her exhausted.
Thorpe was not so silent. "I'm taking you home tonight, kitty cat." He snapped his fingers at her and stalked off to join his friend. Kitty could only wish his offer sounded less like a threat.
When she related the whole scene to Mavis over lunch, her friend at once declared, "If he offers, you have to let him take you home."
"But what about you?" Kitty pleaded. "It isn't safe to take the subway by yourself." Truthfully, she was thinking that to travel with Mr. Thorpe was the more dangerous of the two. Why did he give her the heebie jeebies? Was it normal to envision her boss as the leader to a gang of street criminals?
Mavis was about to discard Kitty's concern when Jimmy Morland angrily took a seat at their table.
"Just you wait," he threatened, "till Mom and Dad get my letter. You're going to be in so much trouble." He took a look at her, seeing her for the first time that day. "What are you wearing? You didn't bring that from back home."
"Do you like it?" Mavis asked proudly although it was clear from his tone that he didn't. "I picked it out for her. She wouldn't have tried it on if it hadn't been for me."
Jimmy glared. Clearly, he did not appreciate the favor. "Are you going to be snobby to me too, now?" he spat.
Mavis was confused. Jimmy was plainly hurt by some offense, and she had no idea about it.
"If you're upset about Miss Oliver, don't be," advised Kitty. "She's like that to everyone. She was even worse with me. She told me to buy a bus ticket back to Michigan."
Her brother looked at her as if she had grown an extra head, then burst out laughing. "Really? I think she may be onto something, especially considering our family's in Wisconsin." The thought that Miss Oliver had been worse than rude to his sister cheered him immeasurably, but it still knocked Jim for a loop when Mavis asked if he could walk her home tonight.
"Why aren't you two walking home together? Don't tell me you got a hot date tonight."
"It's not a date!" Kitty protested. If only she could use her brother's animosity to her advantage.
"Now I see why you're dressing so fancy." There was a note of accusation in his voice. "Who is it?" he demanded. "Tell me it's not someone from my department."
"It's someone on the top floor!" Mavis announced gleefully. "Isn't that amazing!"
If there was any good news from Jimmy's point of view, it was that his worries in getting his sister a job at Northanger were justified.
"You can't be serious!" he said, shell-shocked.
Kitty looked at her plate. She only wished she wasn't serious.
Posted on 2014-06-05
Kitty hid behind an industrious screen. If at any moment Mr. Thorpe were to walk in, he would have found her far too busy to agree to any scheme he devised. And if he pressed the issue, she would just tell him that her brother was taking her out to dinner to celebrate her promotion. As far as lies went, if Mr. Thorpe didn't know Jimmy Morland, it was quite believable.
But time ticked by without his reappearance. It was half past two before she realized it, and then quarter after three with still no sign of him. It was finally approaching five and she let herself begin to wonder what had happened to Mr. Thorpe.
The door to her office silently opened but she was too distracted by the minutes she was typing, and the sound of the typewriter drowned out anything else. A hand came down on her shoulder.
She had seen too many movies where this was the last scene in which the actress appeared alive on camera. The next thing she knew, detectives would be standing over her dead body, calmly discussing how she was yet another victim in some unsolvable killing spree. Before she could think, she screamed bloody murder and nearly fell out of her chair.
When she looked up at her would-be assassin, it was not Mr. Thorpe as she had first guessed, but Mr. Henry instead, looking as pale and startled as Kitty herself.
"Oh, Mr. Henry, you scared me half to death," she said breathlessly.
"That makes two of us," he said in an attempt to regain his good humor.
The door to Kitty's office burst open with a great deal of commotion. Delores from the mailroom came rushing in and took in the relatively peaceful scene.
"I heard someone scream," she prompted after seeing no obvious signs of violence or foul play.
Kitty shared a look with Mr. Henry, then felt a small laugh bubble up. "I'm sorry, Delores, that was me. Mr. Henry came to see Mr. Thorpe and I wasn't expecting him."
Delores stayed only briefly, long enough to give Mr. Henry a flirtatious grin and to tell Kitty how glad the girls would be to hear that Kitty hadn't been fired yet. She made her deliveries, picked up an armful of inter-office envelopes without checking that they were correctly addressed, and left.
Kitty had not been out of the mailroom long enough to look down on all delivery girls, but she might make an exception for Delores.
She pressed her lips in a thin line as the other girl tripped through the doorway then turned back to Mr. Henry. "I'm sorry, but Mr. Thorpe went to lunch with Mr. Tilney and hasn't come back yet."
"I'd be very surprised to see either again today," Mr. Henry told her. "It's something of a ritual between those two. When they go to lunch on a Friday, they don't come back until Monday."
Kitty felt a wave a relief. "Oh, thank goodness," said she. "I thought he seriously wanted to take me home."
Mr. Henry was caught off-guard. "He what?"
"Mr. Tilney actually spoke to me today," Kitty confided, changing topics. "He looked me in the eyes and everything. I was so nervous, can you believe it?"
"The old man may have a formidable reputation," Mr. Henry began, then trailed off. "But I suppose he's earned it."
He made such goofy faces that Kitty giggled. Mr. Tilney intimidated her far worse than Mr. Thorpe, but Mr. Henry brought him down to size for her. Encouraged by her reaction, he then did something that nearly had her in stitches: he puffed out his cheeks and shifted his shoulders, and began to walk about the room in a manner too similar to Mr. Tilney to be accidental. To complete the picture, he began to bark random orders in a deep voice that closely mimicked the chairman. "Change of venue! My office! Get Susan! Save it! Not now, Henry! Whiskey, neat! Hold my calls! Where's Ellie? Get Dick on the phone! Cigar! Who's that secretary in Peters' desk? Prancing around in her fancy frocks, and her hair done up like some movie star."
He was such a good mimic that Kitty couldn't help but laugh even though there was a compliment to herself buried in there.
"Do Mr. Thorpe," she begged.
He paused to consider it, then began snapping his fingers at her and barking, "Peters! Get in here!"
Kitty smiled weakly. It had been her idea but it wasn't a good one. She did not find it as amusing. Thorpe still scared her, and Mr. Henry was not as good at playing at her boss.
"What about Mr. Nelson?" she asked.
Henry started shuffling his feet and clearing his throat. "Miss Oliver wants everyone to... ahem, that is, I would prefer it if..." He cleared his throat again and fiddled with his tie distractedly. "So if we could all speak in a respectful tone of voice and save the cigars for later, I think everyone else would appreciate it."
"Mr. Jones?" she asked.
Henry jerked up the collar of his jacket and tousled his hair. Before he could say a word, Kitty let out a loud peal of laughter.
It was so loud, in fact, that they both turned to the door, worried that someone else might come to investigate, Henry quickly smoothing his hair and suit in case they should be discovered. They gazed at each other, both sober and silent, until she noticed he was fighting a smile. At that, she began to snicker and they were once again at ease.
"Can I ask you a question? About Mr. Thorpe? Do you trust him?" she asked, blushing. "I mean, would you trust him with your sister or your girl?"
Mr. Henry became very serious, as if he considered the matter to be important. "Well, as it so happens, I have a sister. Ellie is quite the force of nature. Between her and my father, I'm sure she has nothing to fear from Thorpe."
Kitty's face fell. She was not a force of nature, and her father was neither close enough nor intimidating enough to protect her.
"However," he continued, "if I had a girl -- which I don't -- and if Thorpe didn't know we were together, I can see how he might say or do things to make her uncomfortable. Why do you ask? What has he done?"
Kitty felt her face grow warm. She hated to be so obvious. Did she even understand the situation she was in? She stuttered out Thorpe's invitation to lunch, followed by his insistence that he take her home tonight.
"I wouldn't let that man take you home under any condition, and certainly don't let him know where you live," Mr. Henry advised. "And absolutely under no circumstances are you to let him treat you to lunch or give you any gifts from him for which he might expect some form of repayment."
The mention of gifts and repayment turned her stomach. Mr. Thorpe had already given her $50 and had asked if she was able to repay. It would take time to earn enough to pay him back. This week's paycheck would barely make a dent when she considered her other expenses.
"Miss Kitty," said Mr. Henry, "you're looking unwell. What's wrong?"
"He gave me some money," she admitted shakily.
"You took it?" He was incredulous.
Tears formed in her eyes. "He said I looked like I belong back in the mailroom and that he was ashamed to admit I was his secretary. I thought I was going to be fired. Miss Henderson won't take me back now that I'm working up here. So I took his money and bought a few nicer outfits so he'd keep me."
Henry thought of a pun or two on Kitty being kept by Thorpe, but none of it was in good taste.
"How much did he give you? Can you pay him back?"
"Fifty dollars," Kitty groaned. "I sent most of my paychecks home to my parents. I can pay him back in a month or two, I think."
He closed his eyes and shook his head. "You need to pay him back as soon as possible. On Monday."
"But I don't have the money, unless I ask my brother for it." That would be even worse than being indebted to Mr. Thorpe. And even then, her brother didn't have enough. Perhaps her parents could wire back some money if she could get word to them.
Mr. Henry weighed her options, then pulled out his billfold and handed her forty dollars. "Find ten dollars of your own and pay him back first thing Monday morning. You owe me ten dollars a week. I make a safer loan shark than Thorpe, but don't make a habit of living beyond your means or you will end up in someone's pocket sooner or later."
She nodded obediently and pocketed the money, murmuring gratitude. There was an odd sensation of relief that she was out of her boss' clutches. True, she was now indebted to Mr. Henry but she had no fear of him. She didn't know how to tell him how thankful she really was.
There was a sharp knock on her door and her brother poked his head in. "Excuse me, I'm looking for my sister... So this is where you hide out now." He pushed the rest of the way into the room, taking in the scene before him. Mr. Henry was sitting on the edge if Kitty's desk, leaning toward her. "Is this the guy who's bothering you?"
Kitty gaped at him. "How did you get up here?"
Jimmy rolled his eyes. "I took the elevator. It's not that hard. So is this the guy?" He glared at Mr. Henry. "Are you pestering my sister?"
He extended his hand. "How do you do? I'm--"
"I know who you are," fired back Jimmy.
"Jimmy!" gasped Kitty in horror. It was one thing for her older brother to talk down to her; she had been used to it her whole life long. But it was something completely different for him to speak like that to anyone unrelated to them. And it was beyond the pale that he as a sales clerk should take that tone with a junior executive. For all Jimmy knew, he might lose both their jobs with that mouth of his!
"It's quite all right, Miss Morland," said Henry with a new air of formality that did not escape her. "As a big brother myself, I can recognize how it must look to an observer. My little sister doesn't need -- or allow -- me to demonstrate my protective instincts, but I have them nonetheless."
"Then you'll understand my instincts right now," threatened Jimmy.
Kitty shot to her feet. If it was possible to die of embarrassment, her brother was about to murder her. "James Norbert Morland, don't you dare say another word!"
However he felt, Mr. Henry acted unconcerned. "All the same, it must be five o'clock by now. I should be going. Have a good weekend." He moved to the door and Jimmy gave him a wide berth. With a brief nod to them both, he bid them goodbye and was gone.
The Morland siblings were quiet for a second or two as they imagined Henry walking down the hall, then both began their litany of complaints against each other. No attention was paid to what the other said, but they continued, growing louder and louder, until they both ran out of grievances and insults.
Kitty could not believe her brother was so headstrong and foolish as to threaten a man who was obviously no danger to Kitty. They were only talking, after all, of how she should handle her real problem. Mr. Thorpe was more worrisome, and he would have fired Jimmy on the spot if Kitty's brother had tried the same tactic with her boss. How was she to confide in Jimmy now that he had demonstrated that he would go off like that? Mavis was likewise no help, not seeing the real problem, and Miss Oliver had made it clear that Kitty was on her own. That left Mr. Henry, who her brother had just chased away with innuendo and threat.
After their mutual outburst, they glared in silence until Jimmy gruffly informed her that Mavis was probably waiting for her, and to hurry up and grab her things.
Kitty complied in a huff, and they rode the elevator down together in a tense silence.
Mavis was indeed waiting for her, and the three of them made the commute back to the house on Pulteney Street.
On principle, Kitty refused to speak to Jimmy the entire way, but he made enough conversation with Mavis that no one noticed Kitty's boycott.
As she listened to them talk around her situation, it brought to mind a cartoon she had seen of a house cat being counseled by a miniature angel on one shoulder and a miniature devil on the other. Kitty wished she knew which of them was the angel with good advice, but she suspected it was neither of them.
Kitty was in the office early on Monday. She had spent most of the weekend at home, not spending money, and she was now anxious to return Mr. Thorpe's loan to him.
As luck would have it, she saw Mr. Henry in the hall on the way to her desk. He smiled and asked her politely about her weekend. Bygones were bygones with him, and she carefully did not complain about how dull it was not to go out. She didn't want him to think she was trying to find a way to delay or avoid repaying him.
"If you're up for it," he said as they were getting ready to part ways, "my sister is back in town, and she'd like to meet you. Can we take you to lunch?"
"You mean down to the cafeteria?" She couldn't imagine Mr. Henry eating there, but she couldn't imagine herself eating lunch anywhere else.
"Well, Ellie would prefer high tea in the Waldorf, but given you have to work in the afternoon, I'm sure that will be fine."
Kitty stood dumbfounded. The Waldorf-Astoria! How could Mr. Henry and his sister think that Kitty Morland belonged in a place like that? He must be teasing her. "You mean today?" she asked, incredulous.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Henry shook his head. "I should have realized you'd have plans. Perhaps some day later this week?"
"Oh no, today is fine," Kitty said, dazed.
"Then I'll bring her round to see you just before lunch." And with another smile, he was gone.
Kitty drifted back to her desk, her head full of Miss Henry and having lunch with her in the cafeteria. What would Mavis say when she introduced them to each other?
Thorpe waltzed in through his private door just after nine, humming a little song. A few moments later, the intercom crackled to life. "Kitten, get in here."
Kitty gathered her notebook, pencil, appointment book and lastly an envelope with $50, and headed into the lion's den.
Thorpe smirked from his desk, magnanimous if condescending. He told her she had missed an amazing lunch, and that, "me and Tilney and the girls had so much to drink, we decided to just stay there for dinner. Think twice before you turn down an offer like that again, Kitten. You won't regret it."
Kitty smiled nervously and tightened her hold on the envelope. The longer she waited to speak, the harder it became. "Mr. Thorpe," she blurted. "Sir, about that money you lent me--"
"Ah, yes, I can see it was well spent." He was not discreet in admiring her figure. Kitty wished Mavis had let her choose more of her own clothes.
"I-I want to pay you back," she stuttered under the discomfort of his gaze.
"Of course you do, Kitten. And I want you to, too; I'm not running a charity here. But I'm not surprised that it's difficult for you to get the money with what we pay our secretaries."
Kitty fleetingly wondered if it was more than she made in the mailroom, and if anyone had notified payroll of her new position. Her last paycheck had been no different than the others.
Thorpe patted his knee. "Come over here and let's discuss how you can pay me back. A payment plan, if you will."
Kitty thrust forward the envelope so fast, her elbow hurt. "I have your money, sir," she said, holding it above the desk. "All of it. You can count it, I don't mind."
Thorpe looked at her, then the envelope, then back to her, his eyes growing steadily more flinty. "All of it?" He was quietly angry.
"Yes, sir." Kitty couldn't meet his eye. She wouldn't like what she would find there.
Thorpe got up and walked around his desk to approach her. He grabbed her wrist and pulled the envelope from her fingers. Her entire arm broke out in goose bumps. "Well, let's just see what you have here."
He went back to his seat and proceeded to count it with agonizing slowness: five ten-dollar bills. "And just where did a girl like you get all that cash?" he asked when he was done.
Kitty's eyes fluttered up to his at the question. That was a mistake and her head dropped again almost immediately. She was a terrible liar, as evidenced by all the times her parents had caught her out in one fib or another, but she didn't think it was wise for her to tell the truth to Mr. Thorpe. She didn't want to get Mr. Henry in trouble, so she choked out that her brother was responsible. "I told him that you had given me money for clothes, and he made me pay you back as soon as I could." If she swapped out Jimmy for Mr. Henry then it wasn't even a lie.
"And where did your brother get this cash?" The origin was a bone of contention.
Kitty shook her head. Her hands were shaking too. "From his wallet, sir. I don't really know."
He let her stand there and wither for a while. "I don't want your money, or your brother's either." He threw the bills across his desk and they fluttered about messily.
"It's not mine, sir. It's yours."
"And where is my interest?"
Again, Kitty's eyes rose to meet his. "Your interest, sir?"
"Yes," he leaned back in his chair. "When a bank loans Northanger Federated money to buy a new store, we have to pay them back. With interest. Where's mine?" His good mood was almost restored to think he still had her on the hook, but it was a dark cheer that could not be shared.
Kitty swallowed. She was familiar enough with the concept, but how was she to know that Mr. Thorpe expected more than his fifty dollars when this was the first he had mentioned it? "But it hasn't even been a week, sir."
"Long enough," he said flatly. "I'm afraid you still owe me."
Kitty thought of the few dollars in her purse. Being under Mr. Thorpe's thumb would grow unendurable very quickly. What would he do-- what would he expect from her-- if she continued to be indebted to him?
"How much is it?" she asked. Her voice sounded impossibly brave. "How much more do I owe you?"
Thorpe frowned as he tried to image a sum just shy of usury to a young girl in Kitty's position. "Ten bucks ought to cover it," he said at last. "I was planning on letting you pay me back over a couple months, you see."
Kitty nodded, her ears ringing. "You'll have it by one o'clock."
She turned and walked out of his office, shutting the door behind her. By the time she reached her desk, she was trembling so hard, she could barely carry her pencil.
She had no idea how she was going to get that money.
Posted on 2014-06-09
Thorpe kept Kitty busy all morning long. He found fault with minutes she had typed or memos she had drafted. He would then tear all the pages in two, drop them to the floor and then stalk back to his office. With every page ruined, not just the sheet with the imaginary mistake, she had to retype the whole thing.
Still, it was a mundane task which left her mind free to search for an answer to her current problem.
She had three dollars and change in her purse. That needed to buy whatever became necessary before her next paycheck, which Kitty was determined should be nothing at all. To that end, she had packed a thermos of soup for lunch. She would be sick of it by week's end, but it was cheaper even than buying soup downstairs in the cafeteria.
That left nearly seven dollars more to borrow for Mr. Thorpe. Mavis, she knew, was useless in that department. While her friend could bargain with the best of them, she usually did, leaving her cash-strapped by the time Monday rolled in. Mr. Henry had already given her forty bucks; she was too ashamed to ask him for more. Her brother was probably her best option. Jimmy had the money, no doubt, but he was on the sales floor and he wouldn't part with it easily. But even if her brother did, Thorpe was determined to keep her chained to her desk until lunch.
A junior executive named Mr. Hathaway dropped in at quarter to twelve to speak with Mr. Thorpe. Kitty saw it as her one chance and she took it. As soon as the door shut behind the two men, Kitty dashed to the elevator. She stood, bouncing on the balls of her feet and repeatedly stabbing the call button until the car arrived. The descent was interminable, and she almost resolved to take the stairs back. She had not forgotten that Mr. Henry had promised to bring his sister to Kitty just before lunch and there was no time to waste.
Once on the third floor, she lost very little time threading her way past displays and departments to reach men's hats where Jimmy worked. She then had to cool her heels as he waited on a customer, an older gentleman who was in no rush to conclude his business.
Northanger Federated had a floor policy that if a clerk was attending to a customer, they could delay their breaks. If the customer kept them 15 minutes late for lunch, the employee could take an additional quarter-hour at the end of their lunch break. It kept the floor staff friendly when a customer like Jimmy's would sorely try their patience. But it did not extend to Kitty, who could only wring her hands over and over while Jimmy doted on the old man.
At last, the man noticed the large clock hanging in the department. "My goodness, it's almost noon," he fussed. "I'm sorry, young man, but I'll have to come back later. I'm meeting my niece for lunch and she likes to be prompt."
He departed quickly after that, leaving Jimmy to fume at the waste of his time. He was not receptive when his sister rushed up to him and practically demanded seven dollars. He turned her down flat.
"Jimmy, please," she begged, tears springing to her eyes. "It's just seven dollars, but I don't have it and I need it desperately. I'll pay you back, you know I will."
The sight of his sister so obviously distressed moved him. He didn't hand over the money right away, but asked, "What's it for? And why don't you have any money? You didn't spend any of it over the weekend."
Kitty decided the fastest way was to tell a condensed truth. "I need it for my boss," she admitted. "He gave me some cash to buy some new outfits now that I'm a real secretary, and I need to pay him back today."
He weighed her words. "That's why you were a homebody Saturday and Sunday?"
She nodded. Relief swept through her as he pulled his wallet out and handed her the money. She snatched it and impulsively kissed his cheek before running back to the elevators. The line at the elevators was long so she flew to the stairs and started climbing. A few flights in, she questioned the wisdom of her scheme but pressed on. It was too late to change course.
By the time she reached the executive floor, she could barely pant enough air into her lungs. A thin sheen of perspiration covered her skin. She stumbled out of the stairway and into the hall, where she paused for almost a minute, hands on hips and bent over at the waist, while her body struggled for breath.
When she was finally able to stand upright, she heard the elevator ding and a voice-- she was sure it was Mr. Henry-- talking to someone else. Was he getting on the elevator with his sister? Had they decided to leave without her?
She walked around the corner as quickly as she could, but her legs were jelly. She watched as the doors slid shut, unable to raise her voice loud enough to ask someone to hold the elevator for her.
Kitty stared at the doors, dejected. She had come so close! Then she looked down at the crumpled dollar bills in her hand. At least she was able to cancel her debt to Mr. Thorpe. She took heart from that. She had lost out on the chance to meet Miss Henry, but that was temporary. Certainly, there would be another opportunity in the future.
Turning back to her desk where a thermos of soup awaited her, she was completely unprepared to see Mr. Henry walking toward her with a brunette fashion-plate at his side. He gave her a smile that made Kitty's legs feel like jelly all over again. "There you are, Miss Kitty. We had just about given up on you." Henry and the young woman closed the distance to her. "Allow me to introduce my sister, Eleanor."
The brunette held out her hand. "So nice to meet you, Miss Morland," she said. Her accent was even more posh than her brother's. Where did she learn to speak like that? "My brother has told me about you."
Kitty didn't wipe her hand on her skirt although she sorely wanted to. She shook Ellie's hand and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Henry."
Ellie laughed sharply, more a bark of surprise than amusement. She looked at Henry, who in turned looked at Kitty.
"Miss Kitty," said he, sounding apologetic, "Henry is my given name."
For the blink of an eye, Kitty didn't understand at all what that meant. But in the next blink, Henry's sister set her straight.
"We're not Henrys," she said. "We're Tilneys."
Kitty gaped at them as this fact sank in. The entire time she had known Mr. Henry -- correction: Mr. Tilney -- she had thought of him as a run-of-the-mill junior executive. From the moment she had nearly run him over with a mail cart, to talking with him, to borrowing his money, he had been a regular guy to her, out of her league but theoretically attainable. And when he had asked to have lunch with his sister, Kitty had to admit that she thought he was getting more attainable, and it had filled her with delight.
Now, it felt like a cruel punchline. The son of the chairman was not attainable, not for her, not in this life. What was the point of introducing her to his sister now? She saw the slight, questioning frown appear on Miss Tilney's face as Kitty's silence lengthened. This young woman before her had been described as a force of nature, as far from a description of Kitty as one could get without omitting they were both female. The only reason she might have to befriend Kitty was not a real reason at all. Henry thought that Kitty needed help and guidance. Ellie was there to educate Kitty, who was so obviously ignorant as to have gotten herself under Mr. Thorpe's thumb in less than a day on the job. This was charity, pure and simple, from both of them.
Kitty recoiled into herself. "I'm sorry," she said, ignoring their similar, concerned expressions, "but I can't come to lunch with you today. Something has come up." It was the sort of falsehood that always got her into trouble at home, because it was patently a lie. Or rather, it was the wrong kind of truth. Something had come up: Kitty had finally realized that Henry Tilney had always been a disinterested philanthropist when it came to her, and she had wanted him to be something else entirely.
She walked away as quickly as she could manage which, having just taken the stairs, looked almost stately. Henry called after her to wait, but she didn't heed him.
She didn't go to her desk but to the Ladies' Room. It was deserted during the lunch hour and she sat down on the same bench where Miss Peters had cried her eyes out not even a week ago.
Miss Tilney entered not long after that and sat down beside her. "Is this seat taken?" she asked as a matter of form.
"Miss Tilney," Kitty began, not knowing how she was going to finish it except that she wanted to ask Miss Tilney to leave.
"Call me Ellie," came the interruption. "It will save us time later when you get to know me better. Besides, you and Henry are already on a first name basis."
Kitty cringed inwardly. She had been more blind to reality than she realized. "I only called him Mr. Henry because I thought that was his last name. And he calls all the secretaries by their first names."
"Yes, and all the secretaries call him Mr. Henry," said Ellie, "so no one confuses him with the old man."
There was that phrase again: the old man. Kitty felt mortified. Henry Tilney had not attempted to deceive her. She had merely been too stupid to understand him.
"But your brother doesn't look anything like Mr. Tilney," Kitty protested. "You either."
"No, thank heavens," agreed Ellie. "We take after the Northanger side of the family."
Kitty didn't want to cry, but she was not sure that she could stop the tears forming. "Both of you must think I'm the biggest ninny alive," she complained bitterly.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," said Ellie. "I've met some real pieces of work, let me tell you, and you are head and shoulders above them. Look, he might be a jokester but Henry's not the type to play cruel tricks. If he had suspected that you didn't know who he really was, he would have told you. So you must have acted like you knew who he was. Did you honestly have no clue?"
Kitty cast her mind backwards through time to all her encounters with Henry Tilney searching for some sign. He had tried to introduce himself to her brother, but Jimmy had cut him off. And when he had done imitations, of course his version of Mr. Tilney had been superior to anyone else. He had always been "Mr. Henry" although Mr. Thorpe and Mr. Tilney, senior simply called him "Henry". Had he introduced himself as "Henry" or as "Mr. Henry" when she had knocked him down that first day?
The recollection of how she had met him came to her forcefully and she buried her face in her hands. "I'm going to get fired for this," she moaned.
Ellie sat next to her, poised but confused. "Fired? What do you mean?"
Kitty started spilling the details to Miss Tilney. She had avoided mentioning Mr. Henry in her letters to her parents, because she had been too embarrassed by how she had met him. And she had avoided mentioning Mr. Henry to her brother, because Jimmy would take it the wrong way no matter how she explained it; their meeting on Friday proved her right. And she had avoided mentioning Mr. Henry to Mavis after their first encounter, because Mavis focused on all the wrong details. The story had been building inside her and now she could leak parts of it but the leak turned into a gush which included not just Henry Tilney but Madison Secretarial College and her bus ride to New York, the YWCA and Mavis and the house on Pulteney Street, Miss Peters and Miss Henderson and Mr. Thorpe, everything that had seemed important to her over the last six months.
It felt good to talk to somebody although, upon review, it wasn't a compelling or coherent rendition of the facts. It was, all in all, unworthy of a screenplay but telling it gave her a perspective she didn't get from keeping it bottled up. And by the end of it, she truly was on a first name basis with Eleanor Tilney.
She had yet to share the secret of Mr. Thorpe's loan to her-- and the interest he was claiming-- although she intended to. It was just a story that needed to be told in its entirety from start to finish, and she had needed to get other stories out of the way first. Miss Oliver walked into the Ladies' room however, and Kitty hushed herself.
Oliver took one look at Kitty and mentally dismissed her, but she did a double-take for Ellie. "What are you doing in town?" she asked in her authoritative way before pasting a more demure, "Miss Tilney," to the end of it.
Ellie had seen the way Miss Oliver had treated Kitty, and she had her own history with the secretary, so she shrugged. "The old man wanted to see me," was the only answer she gave.
Oliver was suspicious but powerless to pry, so she turned to the mirror and repaired her makeup for the afternoon. While she was thus engaged, Ellie turned to Kitty and gave her a wink.
"Did I tell you that my other brother is also coming to town?" she asked Kitty in a quiet voice that still carried in the space.
"Captain Tilney is coming?" repeated Miss Oliver before Kitty could react. She spun around to face the other women on the bench, her lipstick forgotten. "Will he come to the office?"
Ellie shrugged again. "I don't really know," she pleaded ignorance. "You'll have to ask the old man."
Miss Oliver squared her shoulders and immediately moved toward the door, before recollecting herself and quickly finishing her errand. Lipstick in place, she wasted no additional time and left the room.
Kitty stared at Miss Tilney, wondering exactly what she had just witnessed. Ellie broke into small giggles. "She has the biggest crush on Dick, but he doesn't even know she's alive," she explained. "Just you watch, for the rest of the week, she's going to be dressed to the nines."
"You have another brother?" Kitty asked, trying to take it all in.
"Yes, Captain Richard Tilney," said Ellie. "Dick is a -- Well, I suppose you'll find out soon enough. He'll be in the office tomorrow. The important thing is that he's Daddy's favorite." She made a small face at that. "He's just got out of the Air Corps and is ready to join Northanger. And I'm here because the old man decided this would be a great opportunity to gather the family. Henry's already here. Dick's on his way. And Ellie? She's not doing anything important in Boston. Surely she can drop everything and come to New York." There was a slight bitterness in her voice as she said this. As one of ten children, Kitty could relate to her pleasures being delayed or denied for the need or convenience of others.
"So you have two brothers?" Kitty tried to make small talk.
Ellie shrugged and laughed. "Of course I do." Kitty wondered if her shrugs were in code. Left shoulder higher than the right meant that she was amused. If the left shoulder stayed put, she neither knew nor cared.
"Keep in mind I only learned who your father is fifteen minutes ago."
Miss Tilney examined a delicate timepiece on her wrist. "Actually, it's been more like an hour."
Kitty sat up with a jolt and grabbed her new friend's wrist, afraid to see the time for herself. The tiny hands pointed to ten minutes past one o'clock. There was only one thought in Kitty's head, and it was dreadful: "Mr. Thorpe!" She still owed him money, and now she was ten minutes late. What would he do about it?
She got up and ran for her desk, shouting her apologies to Miss Tilney as an afterthought. Perhaps Mr. Thorpe was late in returning from lunch? She could only pray to be so lucky.
Henry Tilney had been pacing the hall, waiting for his sister and Miss Morland to emerge. When he saw Kitty racing toward him, he moved to intercept her, but she pushed him away as she sped past.
"Not now, Mr. Henry. Mr. Tilney. Mr. Henry." It was more than she could decide at that moment what to call him now that she knew who he really was. She would weigh her options properly once Mr. Thorpe was taken care of.
She continued down the hall at high speed, nearly colliding with everyone she met. Mr. Henry had made it look easier than this. Was it a good sign that no one had made it back to their desk by one o'clock?
In her office, she didn't bother shutting the door, but immediately fished the rest of the money out of her change purse and rushed to Mr. Thorpe's closed door.
She paused before it and tried to listen for sounds of life within but she was breathing heavily from her sprint and her heart was pounding with fear.
Hearing nothing to betray her, she grasped the knob. Immediately a bellow rang out.
"Kitten, get in here!"
Kitty squeezed her eyes shut and entered his office with trepidation. She left the door ajar, like a lifeline. He couldn't do anything truly dreadful to her if they weren't completely alone.
He glared at her angrily. "You're late," he informed her.
"Yes, sir," she nodded. "I have your money, the interest I owe you." She tried to hold up the handful of wrinkled cash but she trembled. It was such an unfavorable contrast with the envelope of crisp bills she had given him this morning.
"We'll see about that. Bring it to me," ordered Mr. Thorpe with soft menace.
Kitty wanted to obey but she also wanted to turn tail and run. Pulled in opposite directions by warring instincts, her feet were rooted to the floor.
Thorpe watched her stand there, disobeying him. It infuriated him. "I said, bring it over here!" he roared in a voice that could be heard two floors below.
Two decades of being a usually good girl gave her the conditioning for her first jerky steps. She did not get very far before two Tilneys burst into the room, worry written on both their faces.
"Is everyone all right? We heard shouting," offered Mr. Henry in explanation.
Just having the Tilneys with her in the same room made Kitty feel better. She was not out of trouble yet, by a long shot, but Mr. Thorpe's options for lashing out at her were more limited.
"This doesn't concern you," Thorpe replied steely.
"Now, just a minute!" Ellie protested but Henry silenced her before she could exacerbate the situation.
"Perhaps," agreed Henry, "but it's bad for morale to yell at the secretaries. Can you tell me what this is about?"
Thorpe looked all gruff and bluster. It made Kitty quail but Henry had stopped being intimidated by posturing long ago and Ellie was inured to bullies.
"Kitten here is late," Thorpe ground out at last.
"But that's my fault," piped in Ellie. "I made her late."
"This isn't your fault," Kitty said. The last thing she wanted was to subject Miss Tilney to the same abuse as she was receiving from Mr. Thorpe.
"And you are making her later," barked Thorpe.
Kitty realized that the Tilneys wouldn't stay indefinitely. She needed to hand the money to Thorpe quickly while there were witnesses and then escape to her desk and typewriter. She crossed the remaining distance and held out the handful of bills.
Mr. Thorpe gripped her arm and pulled the money from her fingers. He barely looked at it. "It's after one o'clock, Kitten." He paused to consider Henry and Eleanor, then dropped his voice. "We'll discuss your additional penalty later."
"What penalty?" asked Eleanor, stepping closer. "What are you talking about? What's going on here?"
Kitty caught Mr. Tilney's eye. He understood-- or at least thought he did-- and he was disappointed in her. He had given her enough to help her cancel her debt to her boss, but she had apparently not returned all of Thorpe's money yet.
Tilney opened his mouth to speak but Kitty couldn't let him. "Last week, I borrowed some money to buy new clothes," she narrated. "I paid Mr. Thorpe back this morning, but I still owed him interest. I needed to pay him back right after lunch."
"By one o'clock, Kitten," Thorpe corrected her.
"Interest?" repeated Henry. "She paid you back within the week. That's outrageous."
"I'm not running a charity here. She should have checked the terms of the loan before she took the money. It'll teach her to read the fine print next time."
"How much more does she owe?" asked Henry flatly, fishing his billfold out of his breast pocket.
"I don't want your money, Henry," Thorpe refused him. "Besides, she doesn't learn anything that way, and she'll still be in debt to someone."
Ellie Tilney patted her coiffure then. "Rats," she said as if reading a poorly directed queue. "My hair is falling down. Kitty, can you give me a few pins? I'm sure that's all I need."
Kitty was stupidly still for a moment, trying to figure out what Ellie's hair had to do with Thorpe. After giving up on any connection, she pulled a few pins out of her hair and handed them over.
Ellie took them gratefully, then turned to her brother. "Well, don't just stand there, Henry. Pay her."
Henry blinked. "How much do hairpins usually cost?"
Ellie gave him a speaking look. Henry handed over his billfold with a sigh and let her sort it out. She gave Kitty a crisp ten dollar bill. "That should cover it." She turned smartly on her heel and walked out.
Henry was now torn. Ellie had given Kitty what she needed to get herself off the hook. Staying behind would only make things more difficult for Kitty in the long run, but leaving her alone with Thorpe made him equally uneasy.
"Don't you have somewhere else to be, Henry?" Thorpe barely asked.
"Here sir," Kitty said, and put the money on the desk. It was far more than Thorpe deserved, but she didn't want to stick around and get change. If he now owed her, she'd live with it.
She scurried back to her desk. Mr. Tilney stayed behind only briefly, exchanging a few quiet words with Thorpe before he made a more dignified exit.
Posted on 2014-06-12
For the rest of the day Thorpe was an absolute fiend. If the morning had been trying, the afternoon was worse. He frequently paraded in front of Kitty's desk, berating her, criticizing her work, tearing her memos and letters to pieces, sending her on wild goose chases for files that didn't exist, ordering her to retype everything, dragging out old shorthand notebooks coated in dust and demanding a typed translation. "I want it on my desk before I come in tomorrow morning," he growled at her.
The amount of work to redo was too much to be accomplished by quitting time. She estimated another few hours necessary for all that typing and filing. She didn't trust herself to get out of bed early enough to finish it tomorrow, so she'd have to stay late tonight. When Delores came by to pick up the afternoon mail, Kitty gave her a message to pass along to Mavis that they would be unable to go home together.
Kitty was still typing when five o'clock came and went. She paid it no attention as the hallway briefly came to life with people leaving for home or their evening entertainments.
She stayed silent except for the clacking her keys. For all she knew, Mr. Thorpe was still in the next room waiting to pounce on her if she relaxed for a moment.
Mavis found her caught up in this industrious pose. "Is this your office?" asked her friend, and she whistled appreciatively. "Nice work if you can get it!"
Kitty wanted to bury her face in her hands, but the palms were smeared with ink and grime by now. She would gladly have traded places with Mavis or Delores or anyone else in the mailroom if she thought Miss Henderson would take her back, but that bridge was burned.
"Mavis, I can't leave," she said. "Mr. Thorpe expects me to get all this work done before morning, or I shouldn't bother showing up tomorrow." That was one more good thing about the mailroom: when her shift was over, that was it, she was free to go.
"Well, you can't stay here all night. How are you going to get home?" Neither Mavis nor Kitty were adventurous or stupid enough to travel the city alone after dark. That was usually the last thing someone did before their body was fished out of a river.
Kitty had already given it some thought. "Jimmy's on the floor late tonight. I'll get him to walk with me. You'd better get going."
Mavis was too good-natured to complain, but Kitty could see she was disappointed. Why bother having a roommate if she was never there? Mavis left and Kitty went back to work, momentarily renewed and eager to see the bottom of the stack of work sitting on her desk.
Two hours later, Kitty finished. She let out a groan and rubbed her sore neck, then her sore wrists, then her sore back and shoulders. How could a desk job be so exhausting? All she wanted was to go home, put a record on, and take a long, hot soak in Mrs. Hudson's tub. She checked the clock hanging on the wall: seven-forty. Her brother was stuck on the clock until nine, so she was stuck here too.
She stood and stretched and left the stacks of paper on Mr. Thorpe's desk. She knew he'd find some trumped up fault which would require her to redo everything, but her labors were temporarily over. He seemed like the kind of man to hold a grudge; how long could she hold onto this job with her boss so set against her? Surely she'd be fired by Friday. She wondered how she was ever going to repay Mr. Henry if she never saw him again, much less if she never earned the $50 she now owed him.
She popped down to the Ladies' to clean herself up. Refreshed, she stood in the hall, undecided. Should she go down to Jimmy's breakroom and wait for him there? Could she trust herself to take a small but welcome catnap at her desk? In either case, she needed to get back to her office to collect her things, so she directed her steps that way. As she did, she saw Eleanor Tilney emerge from a side corridor that lead to Mr. Tilney senior's private office.
"Kitty!" greeted Ellie. "You're here late. Don't tell me Thorpe kept you here this long. He's such a beast."
Kitty agreed but silently. It'd be just her luck that Thorpe was still lurking nearby. "I just finished," she said instead. "I can't wait to get home and put my feet up, but I've got to wait for my brother to take me home."
"Let us take you," offered Ellie. "We're just about to leave too. The old man says it's time for a cocktail and a steak." Ellie looked Kitty over. "You like you could use one too."
Kitty's stomach growled involuntarily at the mention of food. She had found time to take a few swigs from her thermos of soup throughout the afternoon, but it had started to cool after a while and she had lost her appetite under Thorpe's steady barrage of criticism. She was very hungry now and the thought of a hearty meal made her mouth water, but that wasn't meant to be.
"I'm afraid I'm a little short of funds right now," Kitty said meekly.
Ellie had witnessed enough this afternoon not to need more detail. She understood and felt herself foolish for forgetting momentarily. "Oh, don't worry about that. The old man is paying; he's old-fashioned like that."
Kitty shook her head. "I still couldn't join you. Three's a crowd and all that."
"But Henry will be there. Dick should have been here by now too, but who knows what happened to him? The men will just end up talking business and I'll be stuck at the table, bored out of my mind and dying of loneliness, if you don't join us."
Kitty didn't know what to say. If she couldn't go with Ellie and her father, then she shouldn't go with Henry either, but to go to dinner for Ellie's sake put a new spin on it, one that was harder to counter. "But I look a mess," she said at last. "Besides, I'm not dressed to go out."
That should have put an end to it, but Ellie was serious about being bored while her father and brother talked business. "Nonsense," she said. "Let's just freshen up a little more. A fresh coat of lipstick and the old man won't notice the difference."
Ellie linked arms with Kitty and tried to direct her, but Kitty dug in her heels. "I can't just invite myself to your family dinners."
While the girls were politely arguing over Kitty's immediate future, Mr. Tilney senior came up to them. "Eleanor, what's this?"
"Daddy!" Ellie was all smiles and girlish charm. "You must talk Kitty into joining us for dinner. I simply must have some female companionship while you and Henry discuss quarterly statements and I don't even know what else."
Kitty might have turned down Ellie often enough to avoid going to dinner, but she was powerless to refuse a direct order from the chairman of Northanger Federated. And so she found herself bundled into a car with three Tilneys and driven to a restaurant she'd never in a million years imagine she would ever actually enter, much less sit down for a meal.
Mr. Tilney for the most part had seemed willing to ignore the girls completely while they ordered and ate, to consider Kitty there only as her daughter's guest; Ellis had been right about the boredom and loneliness. As the waiter cleared their plates, however, Mr. Tinley began to grill her. "Miss Morland, how long have you been in New York?"
"About four months, sir. I've always wanted to live in the Big Apple." She had seen enough movies set in the metropolis to want to leave home forever.
"And where did you graduate from?" he inquired. The question might apply to high school or beyond.
"Oh, nowhere special," said Kitty. The overwhelming vastness of New York and her initial failure to find employment had taught her that. "It's just a little place in Wisconsin. I'm sure you've never heard of it, but it has a great program and an amazing faculty." She might be humble but she still recognized the worth of the Madison Secretarial College. But to Mr. Tilney, it sounded like Miss Morland was discussing a boarding or finishing school.
"And your parents didn't object to you moving to New York?"
"After seeing me off at Madison, they couldn't say no to New York." And after letting her three older brothers leave home, it would be unfair for her parents to refuse her.
Such respect for the autonomy of young people immediately endeared them to Miss Tilney. "I'd like to introduce you to the Morlands, Daddy," she said, raising her glass in a small salute.
There was something funny in the way Ellie phrased that, as if she had known the Morlands for ages when she had only met Kitty today, but before Kitty could issue a gentle correction, she was in the middle of a recurring argument between father and daughter.
"I can't imagine that they would let you go off to California by yourself," he said in a tone that brooked no disagreement. "That's ludicrous to let a young girl go off to Gomorrah all alone."
Ellie started to protest-- they could recite this scene by heart-- but her father interrupted her. "I was talking to Miss Morland."
Kitty stammered for a moment. "Well, I don't know how they really feel about it, but I'd much rather stay in New York." It was not the wisdom of Solomon, but it was as close as she could come.
It pleased Mr. Tilney, who interpreted it as a ringing endorsement of his sensible point of view. Ellie was less pleased, given her father's smugness, and she was unwilling to concede.
"Well, I don't think Kitty's parents are so close-minded as to denigrate an entire state based on--"
"Do you hear that, Miss Morland?" Henry spoke with loud, false brightness as he stood up and grabbed her hand. "They're playing our song." Without a word to his family, he hauled Kitty to the dance floor.
"Is she going to be all right?" asked Kitty when they were a safe distance away.
"Ellie?" asked Henry as he put a hand on Kitty's waist. "She'll be fine. She's the unstoppable force, and the old man is the immovable object. The only thing you could do is get crushed between them. Let's give them fifteen minutes to polish their old chestnuts in peace."
Kitty looked back at the table. The two didn't look very peaceful, but she couldn't stay focused on them as the band was playing a lively number.
When that song ended, the band segued into a slower tune and Henry held her a little closer. It made her feel awkward. While she had first kept quiet because she didn't think she could be heard over the music, she had no excuse now so she cast about futilely for some topic of conversation.
"Are you always so morose on the dance floor?"
He caught her off-guard. "N-no," she stuttered. It was hardly a fair question.
"Then is it your partner?" he asked. "You must be honest with me, otherwise I'll never learn. Let me start by apologizing for our little mix up earlier. Truly, I thought you knew, although it does explain a few things."
"Please don't apologize, Mr. Tilney" Kitty protested, wanting to put her foolishness behind her. "I was just thinking of your sister. You know, she's old enough to move to California all by herself if she wants to. I mean, here I am in New York. If I can do it, surely an unstoppable force can do it." It might not be clever, but it was certainly provoking.
Still, he smiled and directed them farther from the table. "I'll ask you to keep that under your hat for now. This disagreement shows neither to advantage, and the last thing that the rest of us want is for Ellie to run off, disowned and penniless, to Hollywood. You Morlands might be made of stronger stuff, but we Tilneys don't endure deprivation well, never mind what war stories Dick might tell you. You can be sure the old man would cut off her allowance completely if she pulled a stunt like that; she wouldn't see one thin dime until she turned 25."
It seemed implausible that Mr. Tilney should leave his daughter penniless if it was in his power to prevent it, just as implausible that Ellie should run off in a quarrel. Parents and children did not do that to each other. True, Kitty didn't have enough money on her to tip the coat-check girl, but that was Kitty's fault for taking Mr. Thorpe's money to begin with, and if she wrote her family and explained the situation, they would wire her what they could spare until she was back on her feet, even if it was just enough for a bus ticket home. That's what family did.
"But if Miss Tilney tries and doesn't succeed, won't she come back to New York eventually? Perhaps that might persuade your father to let her try?"
"You would never know it from me, but Tilneys tend to be ridiculously stubborn and hard-headed." He spun her around. "Even Dick might not have gotten as far as he did were he not so very insistent. The point being, if Ellie left, she wouldn't come back until she had succeeded, whatever that means. And she isn't going to Hollywood with dreams of becoming a movie star, she just wants to marry one. Can you imagine how long a down-on-her-luck heiress would last under those conditions?"
"I thought you said she was a force of nature," Kitty reminded him.
"She is," he agreed, "but there are other forces at work. They tend to be more handsome than ethical."
Kitty frowned, feeling stupidly naive.
"Don't look like that," Henry counselled her after she missed a step or two. "There are worse things than thinking well of strangers. Just remind me to keep an eye on you when you feel the urge to trust someone. Ellie is in the same place as you in that regard, except the old man won't let her do anything so daring as move to a new city alone."
Kitty hardly found her current position enviable. "Yes, I'm sure your father would come around to the idea if he found out that I owe money to you and my brother, this is the last decent meal I can expect before payday, and I don't even own the shoes on my feet. If I ever make it to payday, that is, considering how Mr. Thorpe is treating me."
As soon as she spoke, she wished she hadn't. "I'm sorry, Mr. Henry. I didn't mean to complain. You've already been more than generous." She certainly didn't want him to feel obligated to do any more for her than he had already done. She shouldn't grow dependent on him to get out of jams, especially considering how often she ended up in one.
"Think no more of it," he instructed gallantly and began an increasingly complex series of moves that Kitty could only describe as choreography. It grew more difficult to think of her problems as she focused on following his tells through the dance.
Back in Madison, Kitty Morland had imagined herself a dancer of modest renown, but since she had moved to the Big Apple, she was usually too poor or too busy to go out dancing. Her brother had outright refused to escort her to clubs, and Mavis Allen much preferred to spend her evenings at the cinema, so dancing at all felt like a rare treat. After shaking the rust off, she demonstrated her skills as a partner, and Henry Tilney kept her on the floor for a song or two longer than originally planned.
When he finally led her back to their seats, they were met by Mr. Tilney senior placing a tip on the table and announcing it was time to go. Eleanor Tilney was sullen and quiet; Kitty guessed the unstoppable force had not yet bested the immovable object.
After some embarrassment on Kitty's part, she gave them her address and they drove her home to Pulteney Street. When they pulled up to the curb across the street, Thomas Tilney suggested his son walk Miss Morland to her door. Kitty gratefully saw Mavis' silhouette in a window. Kitty didn't have the key; she had never needed it before and Mavis didn't have a spare.
As they climbed the steps, safely out of earshot of those in the car, he asked her, "You and your brother don't actually live here, do you?" He was probably wondering how a girl at such a fancy address could be so short on funds.
Kitty slowed to a halt at the door. "We couldn't live together without Mom or Dad to keep the peace. My roommate and I are just watching the house until the family comes back."
"With the owners' consent, I hope," he remarked just before the front door was thrown open by Miss Allen.
"Kitty, where have you been?" she asked dramatically. "It's after eleven!" She stopped talking when she caught sight of Kitty's escort.
"Allow me to introduce myself," he said, not waiting for the girls to do the honors. "I'm Henry Tilney, and I was just walking Miss Morland to her door."
Mavis recognized the last name. She smiled brightly and extended her hand. "Mavis, Mavis Allen. I work in the mailroom at Northanger Federated."
Henry was all good humor. "Yes, I know. You're the best-dressed delivery girl we have."
She was temporarily overcome. "You noticed?"
"How could we not? Well, I had best be going." He tipped his hat. "I'll see you in the morning, Miss Morland."
Kitty did not linger to watch the Tilneys' car drive away. Mavis was liable to say something, loudly, that Kitty would regret.
"I thought your boss was Mr. Thorpe," she began as soon as the door was shut and locked.
"He is," Kitty verified.
"I thought your boss was making you work late."
Mavis nearly stamped her foot in frustration. "Then why were you out with the chairman's son at all hours? Kitty, what is going on?"
It took some explaining, but Kitty was finally able to soothe the worries and satisfy the curiosity of her friend. As expected, Mavis was far more interested in the young Tilneys than in Kitty's boss. Not even the notice that, "Mr. Thorpe will probably find some reason to fire me tomorrow," was sufficient distraction.
Indeed, Mavis found it funny that Mr. Henry and Henry Tilney were one and the same, and she was absolutely fascinated with Eleanor Tilney. When Kitty mentioned that she wanted to spend more time with Mr. Henry's sister, Mavis was quick to second the notion.
"Perhaps," ventured Kitty, "if I still have a job tomorrow, we can invite her to the cinema."
Mavis enthusiastically agreed to the plan, and the girls finally went to bed.
Kitty did not sleep well. Her dreams were difficult to describe but left her tossing and turning. By the time she woke, her good spirits had completely evaporated. With increasing dread, she went through her new morning routine.
The elevator spat her out on the executive floor. She saw no sign of any Tilneys as she walked the hallway to her doom, but she did see Miss Oliver looking stunning. It only made her feel worse by comparison.
She and Mavis had had a small argument that morning over what to wear. Kitty had decided to wear one of her old outfits instead of anything bought with Thorpe's vile money. Mavis, however, would not stand for it.
"Why have all those glorious new clothes if you won't wear them?" she argued. "You've already paid him back, right? What should it matter to him what you wear?"
Kitty knew that it mattered far more to Mr. Thorpe than to her what she wore, but Mavis convinced her that her boss wouldn't know the difference between clothes bought honestly and his gifts. If he was going to rant, he would do it no matter what she wore, so why not look nice?
It had helped, a little, to wear something new and pretty, but the effect was not lasting, and evaporated completely when Miss Oliver sashayed by.
Thorpe wasted no time upon his arrival in calling Kitty into his office to shred her self-esteem quickly and completely. The papers she had left on his desk the night before were wadded into balls and thrown back at her. Kitty felt tears stinging her eyes although she did not burst into sobs.
He was just getting to the point that this was Kitty's last day at Northanger Federated, and possibly her last day working within the New York City limits, when the telephone sitting on his desk rang.
"Well, don't just stand there, stupid, answer it!" he barked at her.
Kitty flinched but obeyed. With a slight tremor in her voice, she said, "Northanger Federated. This is John Thorpe's office; Miss Morland speaking."
She heard a tinny crackle, then an accented voice announced that it was "Mr Salisbury for Mr. Thorpe."
Kitty gripped the handset tighter. "Just a moment. Let me see if he is available." She put the call on hold and looked up at Mr. Thorpe plaintively.
"Get out of here, Kitten. Pack your things and go." He dismissed her with contempt.
What else could she do? She left the room. As she was shutting the door, she could hear his complaining to Mr. Salisbury. "We're going to need Diane on this call. I just had to fire my secretary; she was lousy."
Kitty walked to her desk and sat down. Less than a week ago, she had lucked into this job. Now, she was being thrown out. She felt exposed as a fraud, an ignorant country girl caught pretending to be more than she was.
She drew in a shaky breath and looked around for what things to pack. She hadn't been there long enough to get settled in, and could leave with only her purse and thermos just as she had walked in.
She began making a mental list. She needed to tell Jimmy and Mavis she had lost her job. She needed cancel their trip to the cinema tonight. She needed to go to the employment office and see who was hiring. She needed to write to her parents. Living at the Hudsons' house, she had no expenses on that front for now, but she still had an outstanding debt to Mr. Henry.
She tidied the papers on her desk out of habit, but there was nothing more to do, no reason left to stay.
A brief knock at her door was immediately followed by Miss Girard. "Good morning, Miss Morland. Mr. Tilney wants to see you."
Kitty didn't hear her quite right. "I'm afraid Mr. Thorpe is on the phone with London," she said quietly. "And Mrs. McAvoy will need to send someone up before the call ends."
Susan Girard smiled kindly. "Yes, Mr. Tilney has already instructed me to make the call," she said. "But it is you, Miss Morland, he wishes to speak with."
Kitty didn't know what to make of it, but she wouldn't learn anything staying put, so she followed Miss Girard to the waiting room outside Mr. Tilney's office. Miss Girard had her desk there, and there were other doors leading to Mr. Henry's office and a few meeting rooms.
Susan asked her to have a seat as Mr. Tilney was currently with his son. This son emerged soon after, and it was not Mr. Henry. He noticed her immediately and made a beeline for an introduction.
"Hello there. I'm Captain Dick Tilney, retired," he said with a wink as he took her hand. "Although I suppose everyone will be calling me Mr. Richard around here. And who do I have the pleasure of speaking to?" He was gallant and charming. Of course, so was Mr. Henry, but in a different way.
"I'm Kitty Morland," she replied.
He grinned like a Cheshire cat. "What a lovely name, for a lovely girl."
Kitty wanted to tell him not to bother remembering it as she wouldn't be around much longer, but Miss Girard called her in to see Mr. Tilney senior.
Kitty was ushered into the room and Miss Girard was instructed to send in Mr. Henry in a few minutes.
Mr. Thomas Tilney wasted little time. "Hello, Miss Morland. Take a seat. Having a good morning?"
Kitty squeaked as she sat, not knowing how to reply, but the question was meant to be rhetorical. He continued: "I have a personal favor to ask of you. My daughter, Eleanor, has recently returned to the city and she's having problems making new friends. Most of the girls she knew at school live in Boston or Philadelphia or what-have-you. She doesn't have someone local she can spend time with, a girl her own age."
This was a quandary. "Well, I usually go out on Tuesdays with a friend, and we were going to ask Ellie to come out with us tonight," Kitty admitted in a small voice, "but Mr. Thorpe just fired me."
"He fired you?" Tilney was incredulous. Then he laughed; it was a harsh sound that made Kitty uncomfortable. "He can't fire you, not if I want you to stay." He chuckled again in amusement. "That's wonderful. In fact, it makes everything easier."
There was a perfunctory knock, and Mr. Henry entered. "Susan said you wanted to see me."
"Yes, Henry, have a seat," his father motioned him in. "Mr. Thorpe has just fired Miss Morland."
Henry's steps faltered as he absorbed the news. "Fired?" He dropped into his chair.
"So he thinks, but I think otherwise. Miss Morland, I want you to be my son's secretary."
Before Kitty could react, Henry blurted out. "No, absolutely not." He looked at Kitty sheepishly. "It's not you, Miss Morland. I just think Dick needs a secretary with more... experience."
"I'm giving Miss Oliver to Richard. She asked me yesterday for the assignment," said his father.
Henry was puzzled. "Then Miss Morland will work for Mr. Nelson?"
Thomas Tilney sighed. "I'm going to bring up a girl from the secretarial pool. McAvoy will find someone."
"With all due respect, sir, Oliver has been practically running Nelson's department for years. The wrong girl under Nelson and it will be a shambles in a few weeks."
"Henry, it's over. I've decided."
"But Mr. Thorpe will be furious when he finds out I'm still here," Kitty protested. She did not want to face him again.
"I'll talk to him," said Mr. Tilney. "Besides, a man who would let a woman get in the way of business is in the wrong business."
Henry Tilney shot out of his seat and began pacing along the windows. His father watched him silently for a moment before calling him back to his chair.
He complied, drumming his fingers in frustration. "Then why does Dick need two secretaries? Miss Oliver is more than competent enough to handle him by herself."
"Are you forgetting I have two sons?"
Henry made a strange noise. "But... but I have Susan."
"Correction: I have Susan. You have been borrowing her for almost two years." Mr. Tilney leaned over his desk. "I can't give Richard a secretary and not you. What are people supposed to think? Besides, you are single-handedly responsible for Miss Girard being overworked. She's got one of McAvoy's girls up here every week for something or other of yours. And don't get me started about that mess you bring back with you every time you return from California!"
Kitty was slightly embarrassed for Mr. Henry. She wished she were elsewhere, to give him some privacy with his father.
"Are you dissatisfied with my work?" Henry asked.
"Not yours," Tilney answered, and the two across the desk felt better for it. "But the girls you pick out in Hollywood-- they're all singers, dancers, actresses. None of them have any idea how to take notes or do anything. You have no idea how to pick a secretary."
"Old man, I think--"
Mr. Tilney was done talking. "I've already thought about it. Miss Morland, you'll start immediately. There's already a desk set up next to Miss Girard. Move your things and get to work. If Henry doesn't have anything for you right now, I'm sure Miss Girard has a list of things she needs help with."
They were dismissed. "Now go. I've got to tell Nelly about Oliver."
In the waiting room, Kitty didn't know what to do. She was relieved that she still had a job, and was effectively removed from Mr. Thorpe's control. On the other hand, Mr. Henry was obviously not happy with the situation and she didn't know why.
"Et tu, Susan?" he asked Miss Girard.
She did not look up from her work. "One Tilney is more than enough for anyone. Miss Morland, you're welcome to setup the extra desk however you like, although you'll both be moving to a separate office at the end of the month."
"He's getting rid of me?" Henry was hurt.
Miss Girard raised her eyes. "He's giving you your own office, Mr. Henry. Think of it as a positive recognition for your good work."
Henry sighed and disappeared into his office, leaving Kitty to get settled. There was not much for her to do in that regard, so she quickly made herself useful to Miss Girard.Continued In Next Section