Posted on 2014-06-16
A half-hour later, Mr. Henry called Kitty into his office for a little chat. He apologized for how poorly he handled his father's announcement. "It's just I had no idea Susan was unhappy with me. I mean, if she had to choose between us, I would have expected her to pick me."
Kitty felt for him. "It's okay. I understand. What shall I do? Do you want me to..." She didn't know what to say. What if she suggested she go to Mrs. McAvoy, and he took her up on it?
Henry waved his hand to dismiss any immediate alteration. "Let's at least try it out. Susan has spoiled me, but I'm sure she'll show you the ropes."
Kitty thought it would be a good time to leave, but she couldn't help herself. "Are you sure, sir? It's just... you seemed very upset in your father's office."
She could feel him withdraw. "It's not you," he said at last. "It's not anything to do with a new secretary or a new office, it's just the phrase my father used: a man who would let a woman get in the way of business is in the wrong business. It's his own personal motto, something like all's fair in business and war. I hadn't heard it in years, but it brought up some bad memories, that's all."
His words only made Kitty more confused and uncertain, but she nodded and stood to leave. "Don't you mean all's fair in love and war?" she realized.
"These are not my words. With my father, it's business and war. It always has been, and it always shall be."
She tried to look like she followed him, but it was challenging.
"Sit down, Miss Kitty. I'll tell you the story," he sighed. She looked like she could do with a little enlightenment, and he looked like he could use a sympathetic ear. "Family lore says my father first used that line when he stole my mother from her fiancé; his way of telling the chap he wished him no hard feelings. The man actually stayed with Northanger Federated for another six years before he took a job in Washington. We Tilneys can be quite charming and pleasant when we choose to be. Anyway, it was doubly a coup when my parents married, not just that she was originally expected to marry someone else, but my father was viewed as beneath my mother by his in-laws. An insurance salesman from New Jersey marrying Richard Northanger's only daughter? You can imagine some very awkward family dinners. And yet, Mother was determined to have him so Grampy gave the old man a job and he worked the rest of the way up. They had a very good marriage despite their disparate backgrounds. Mother was the only woman whose opinion the old man truly respected, or even asked for. She was a doting mother, a loving wife. She was unofficially the best employee of Northanger Federated. Every dinner, every gala, she was there, the jewel of the evening."
He smiled, but there was sadness in it. "Until one evening she stayed home. She had been feeling under the weather the whole week, and so she told my father she was going to stay home. He was fine with it; I was home for the holiday and I was going to the event with my father. Then she asked him to stay home with her. It was unprecedented that she would ask such a thing. Of course he said no. Then he said, 'A man who lets a woman get in the way of business is in the wrong business.' And so he and I went to the party. And when we came home, she was unconscious. And before we could get her to a doctor, she was dead."
Kitty's eyes were wide with astonishment. As much as she wanted to know that she wasn't responsible for Mr. Henry's darkened mood, she wished to have been spared this. "Oh, Mr. Henry," she said, not knowing what else to say.
"It's been years," he told her. "But sometimes, it just doesn't feel like it. So you can understand how that line in particular could cause such a reaction in me. And now you see how it has absolutely nothing to do with you. I'm sure we'll get on well together, but I think I'd like to be alone right now."
Kitty walked out as quickly as she could with her head down, eager to bury herself in work. There was plenty to do for Miss Girard, starting with notes that Mr. Henry had brought back from his last trip to California. Mr. Tilney senior had the right of it when he criticized the secretaries in California. It was slow wading through it, and a welcome break when Miss Tilney showed up shortly before lunch.
The girls greeted each other cheerfully, and Kitty was able to share the news that she had been reassigned to Mr. Henry.
"That's wonderful!" Ellie laughed. "We'll have lots of fun now. Come to lunch with us. We can celebrate."
Kitty wished she could but declined. The scrawled notes from failed actresses were not going to decode themselves, and working as Mr. Henry's secretary made her feel uncomfortable socializing with him as they had last night. Instead, she extended her own invitation for Ellie to join her and Mavis that night at the movies. Mr. Henry bothered her very little throughout the day, keeping mostly inside his office. Kitty too kept a low profile. She didn't know how Mr. Thorpe would react when he found out she was still down the hall, and she wanted to delay that reaction for as long as possible.
When Ellie returned from a late lunch with her father, she stayed briefly to finalize arrangements for that night.
So it was that the doorbell to the Hudsons' house rang at half past six, and Kitty made the introductions between Eleanor Tilney and Mavis Allen. The two hit it off well, their mutual love of California and fashion forming a quick camaraderie. Mavis and Ellie gave their guest a quick tour of the public rooms in the house before taking her to the kitchen where they had a casserole warming in the oven. The novelty of the casserole provided Ellie with some amusement and she asked if the other two had decided what movie they were going to see. The girls talked animatedly over what was playing, their favorite stars and movies.
Dinner over, the girls headed out with Mavis locking up. Ellie asked where the car was parked and Mavis started laughing.
"A car? How rich do you think we are?" She had never even driven a car, and while Kitty had experience behind the wheel, she didn't have a license. "We're going to take the subway."
"The subway?" Ellie's head shot up, eyes wide. First a casserole, next a subway. How would this night end?
Kitty and Mavis came to Northanger Federated with a bounce in their step. They rehashed the movie they had seen and how amazing Lauren Bacall was. It was the polar opposite of Kitty's morning the day before when she had walked into the office like an innocent being sent to her execution.
She greeted Miss Girard at her desk and began preparing for the day to begin. The two Messrs Tilney arrived together, the father doing most of the talking, the son nodding and muttering assent. They bid the two secretaries good morning and Mr. Tilney senior appended, "Five minutes, Miss Girard," before disappearing into their respective offices.
After giving Mr. Tilney the requested time to settle into his desk, Miss Girard grabbed her notepad and appointment book and followed him into his lair. Kitty took this as her cue to do the same with Mr. Henry.
He was quite surprised to see her. "Susan always makes me wait until after she's finished with my father," he noted.
"Would you prefer I come back later?" she asked, in case he was not ready.
"No, now is fine. I guess I wasn't as spoiled as I thought."
Mr. Henry's meetings didn't start until noon when he had a cross-country call to California. It was then back-to-back calls until four, where he had a half-hour scheduled with the old man, as Kitty was now beginning to think of him.
"And how was your girls' night out?" he asked once their review of his day was concluded.
"What did your sister say about it?" asked Kitty, curious to hear her new friend's perspective.
"Princess Eleanor does not rise at the same time as us commoners. I am forced to find out about her activities through other channels. Did you go out dancing?"
"We went to the cinema," she said simply.
Still, it earned her a double-take. "The movies? You know she wants to move to Hollywood. Movies are a bad influence." Something caught his attention. "Wait. How did you get there?"
"We took the subway, of course." How else were they to get around the city?
"You took Ellie on the subway?" He was filled with big-brother concern. "I don't think she's never been on the subway before."
Kitty agreed. "I could tell, but she was fine. It's really not any different from a train. She was a little nervous at first but I think she got the hang of it."
Henry looked pained. "The subway?" he repeated. "Do me a favor and don't let my father know. He'd be upset if he found out."
"She was perfectly safe," Kitty reassured him. "We were with her the whole time."
"That's not what I meant," Henry corrected her. "I mean, yes, he's concerned with her safety, but I also think he wants to make sure she doesn't get the impression that she can move to California on her own or be more independent than she already is. He's not ready for that. She's not ready for that."
"She's more mature than you realize," Kitty told him.
"Yes, and that terrifies me. I would appreciate it if you didn't remind me," he admitted with a sigh. "Which is why I probably shouldn't ask you about this sort of thing again, isn't it?"
Kitty grinned into her notepad. "Do you not want to know her opinion on Cary Grant versus Robert Mitchum?"
"No, thank you. Get out," he laughed with her. "Get out before I learn something I can't forget."
If working for Mr. Thorpe had been a nightmare, then working for Mr. Henry was a dream. Despite his initial belief that Miss Girard spoiled him, it became clear to him quickly that she had done no such thing, and the little niceties that Kitty did for him were greeted with wonder. He was unaccustomed to his secretary coming into his office to review his calendar, or take notes for a call, or even pull files for him prior to a meeting that did not involve the chairman. It was a novelty that would take a long while to wear off. It explained how, with such low expectations and such kind manners, he might end up with a truly abysmal secretary if left to his own devices.
He was also well-trained against asking his secretary to work late. When five o'clock approached each day, Miss Morland checked with him that he would not need her until the morning and, despite an unravelling on the west coast, he sent her home with his good wishes for a pleasant evening.
Kitty was glad Mr. Henry had not wanted her to stay, because she had plans with Mavis or his sister most nights. Ellie Tilney made a habit of stopping by shortly before lunch to ask if Kitty was free to go out at night. While Kitty was free, the entertainment had better be also, she warned. Ellie was as unaccustomed to a paucity of funds as her brother was to plenitude of assistance, but she gamely came up with inexpensive or completely gratis ideas. She even suggested they stay at home one night to read through magazines and talk about the movies. It was an evening sure to please Mavis Allen, so Kitty wasted not a moment in accepting the offer, and the girls parted with an agreed-upon time for Miss Tilney to arrive at the house on Pulteney Street.
Mavis was delighted with the scheme when she heard about it, and all her hopes were fulfilled with Miss Tilney showed up with a shop-bag full of Photoplay and Hollywood Confidential. The trio stayed up late, listening to records and reading aloud to each other, before Miss Tilney's car returned to collect her.
Mavis had other amusements during this time, the chief being assembling Kitty's outfit every morning. The shopping spree funded by Thorpe had given Kitty a solid wardrobe, but it would've been only half as effective if Mavis didn't mix in pieces Kitty had originally brought from home, Mavis' own collection of finds, and once or twice a blouse from Mrs. Hudson's own closet that Mavis passed off as her own so Kitty would wear it without an attack of conscience.
With her new commitment to frugality, Kitty was even able to hand Mr. Henry the first installment of her loan on payday. He was not expecting it, and nearly told her that she needn't bother, but the look on her face stopped him. It was important to her to pay him back, more important than the money itself. It was taking responsibility for her actions, being an adult rather than just getting older, and it was heady and empowering to feel her life was on track. She would make a plucky heroine yet.
With such pleasant experiences, it was hard to imagine anyone having a bad time, but when she came into the office each morning, it was becoming more and more clear that Henry Tilney had spent a frustrating evening at the office. Often he stayed at his desk until after eight o'clock, phoning various people on the west coast and getting nowhere. While he could accomplish nothing at his desk while the pacific time zone slumbered, he was back at his desk again bright and early the next day, and waiting for Kitty Morland to help with deciphering notes, pulling files, and scheduling calls and meetings.
Kitty squeezed in the quotidian review of Henry's schedule every morning, but more often than not it ended up being rewritten completely as he asked her to cancel or move the meetings he had to replace them with new appointments.
The worst request was that she reschedule a meeting between Henry Tilney and John Thorpe. She had completely avoided her former boss' office since he had fired her. Mr. Henry had been too preoccupied when he rattled off his changes to notice how she stiffened, and she felt too bad for his sake to make a fuss about it. She should be able to handle this small task, after all.
But her confidence wavered then diminished as she approached her old desk. The girl sitting in Kitty's former chair was unfamiliar to her, which she decided was for the best.
"Mr. Henry needs to meet with Mr. Thorpe for thirty minutes today before lunch. It's very important," she said as she clutched the appointment book.
The girl methodically finished her task before turning to the appointment book on her desk. She sighed in annoyance and rolled her eyes. "He's available at one."
"But I said before lunch!" Kitty said.
"He's on the telephone with London right now, and then he's got to debrief Mr. Richard, and he's having lunch with--"
"Cancel the meeting with Mr. Richard," Kitty blurted out. "Mr. Henry is more critical right now. I'll rearrange the schedule with Miss Oliver myself."
The girl behind the desk was more than willing to hand over Mr. Thorpe's appointment book so Kitty could run down the hall and make the adjustments. Kitty snatched it from her hands and sprinted out.
Miss Oliver refused to budge at first. Kitty had expected this and could only restate her case in varying degrees of whininess and assertiveness until Oliver slammed her pencil down on the desk in frustration.
"All right!" she snapped. "Enough. Fine, I'll move the appointment to after lunch. Just stop talking." She grabbed Mr. Thorpe's book and compared it to Mr. Richard's, found a mutually available timeslot, and penciled it in. She handed Thorpe's book back with an unencouraging, "now get out."
Kitty raced the book back to Mr. Thorpe's office, and returned to her own desk with a sigh of relief. That was the most stressful part of her morning although she did stay more than usually busy.
She had lunch with Mavis in the cafeteria as scheduled, then returned upstairs to a stack of folders to refile on her desk. She was halfway between the elevators and the room she shared with Miss Girard when she heard a shout. She froze.
"Kitten! What do you think you're doing? You're not supposed to be here anymore!" John Thorpe closed the distance quickly, gripping her wrist. "Get out now before I throw you out myself." He started to drag her back to the elevators.
"What's going on?" asked Miss Oliver as she walked up.
"This doesn't concern you," Thorpe told her.
Oliver almost laughed. "It concerns Mr. Henry. She works for him now. You don't want to upset the Tilneys."
"You're not untouchable either, Oliver."
She smiled coolly. "Haven't you heard? I work for Mr. Richard these days. Come along, Morland."
Kitty tugged at her wrist but Thorpe didn't release it right away. Instead, he squeezed it painfully, bruisingly. "Nine lives, Kitten," he said menacingly. "How many do you have left?" With that ominous question, he let her go. The man was determined to portray himself as a thug.
She rubbed her wrist and hurried after Miss Oliver. "Thank you," she whispered.
Oliver was disgusted. "Grow a spine, Morland. He has no right to touch you, yet you let him."
Kitty would have blubbered more but Miss Oliver left her in the hall.
She sat at her desk, considerably subdued, and rubbed her wrist. She noticed fingerprint-sized bruises and wished she had worn long sleeves to hide the mark.
It was not a good day for Mr. Henry either. Shortly after lunch, he announced that he would be travelling to California that weekend to sort things out in person. Miss Girard helped her call the travel agent and get the plane tickets delivered by an express messenger. His accommodations were handled by a telegram to a Mrs. Harman who worked on an as-needed basis as the housekeeper in the home Henry Tilney owned in southern California. He also kept a car there, so a taxi home from the airport would resolve everything. All that remained was to get Mr. Henry's files in orders for the trip, which still required a lot of decoding on Kitty's part.
The chairman himself asked her to work late that day, and as Kitty had work to do now and tentative plans to have dinner with Ellie later, she sent a message to Mavis through Delores that she wouldn't be leaving at the standard time.
Six o'clock came and went quietly with Tilney père et fils engaged in conference. Soon after, the chairman emerged from his son's office and instructed Kitty that, "Henry wants to see you now."
His son, however, was distracted and unable to get to the point, whatever it was.
"Are you all right, Mr. Henry?" she asked at last.
He wrestled with his answer briefly. "I hate losing to the old man," he said at last. "Especially when he's already decided against me. There's simply no reasoning with him."
"What did your father decide?" she asked.
"I am going back to California to clean up a mess that I fully admit never should have happened. I had hired a girl through a secretarial service when I was out there a couple weeks ago. She took the notes that you and Susan have been trying to decipher; the girl should have worked for the OSS as cryptic as she was. But the service sent out transcribed copies of her notes to Northanger and Woodston. The notes you've been wading through sound nothing like the copy sent to Woodston. To read them, one would think that we went to completely different meetings. At this point, my father was throwing around the word sabotage and a few other even less complimentary. He insists -- rightfully so -- that I get a better secretary next time."
Kitty wasn't sure what she should contribute to this conversation. Perhaps Mr. Henry just needed someone else to hear him think.
"Shall I call the service that provided the last girl and make sure they send someone else, or do you want to go with a whole new service?"
"Actually, my father has as different idea in mind. He thinks the solution to this problem is staring me in the face." Henry levelled his gaze at her meaningfully.
Kitty felt herself grow warm, then foolish. "He can't mean me," she said nervously. "I'm in New York."
"So am I, for the present," he pointed out. "Look, Miss Kitty, I have to ask you, but you don't have to accept. This is ridiculously short notice. If you cannot go, or do not wish to go, just say the word. I shall not hold it against you although, for form's sake, perhaps you should invent a family excuse."
It was impossible to answer right now. "May I think on it, sir?" she asked.
"Sleep on it," he offered to her. "Let me know your decision by tomorrow morning so I can plan. And if you have any questions, please ask."
Kitty stood up to leave. "Will Mr. Tilney be upset if I refuse?"
The question took Henry by surprise. "It would be unfair if he did." This was not a firm denial, and provided Kitty much food for thought.
She returned to her desk, not knowing what to do. She ought to jump at the chance to travel. Indeed, in the abstract, she had always wanted to go to California, so why not now with Northanger Federated paying the bill? Sure, she would spend her days in an office, but her nights would be free.
Then again, that part gave her pause. The only person she knew there would be Henry Tilney. After spending the day with her, would he be willing to spend even more time when evening rolled around, or would she be left to fend for herself? She was not yet confident now to roam the streets of the Big Apple alone, how was she supposed to get around in someplace completely new? She didn't even have a driver's license.
It was a grand adventure, but perhaps too grand for her now. Plenty of bad things happened to people in California; just look at Born to Kill!
Then she remembered that while Henry Tilney wouldn't hold it against her, the chairman was a different story. And if Thomas Tilney was dissatisfied with her performance on the job or her dedication to Northangar, there would be no more second chances.
She had nearly decided to tell Mr. Henry she had accepted the opportunity when Ellie swept in at six-thirty, chatting with Mr. Richard. "Kitty, you're not still hard at work, are you?" she said with some surprise. "I thought that evening with Thorpe was a one-time thing."
Richard immediately turned on the charm. "Will you be joining us, Miss Kitty?"
"Us?" Kitty repeated. "It's just Ellie and me, I thought."
Ellie shrugged. "Not if the old man is paying. You don't mind a change of plans? Dick's finally got a night free to spend with us and the old man wants to spend it as a family."
Kitty felt alarmed. She had already sent Mavis away; how was she to get home now? Was Jimmy still on the floor? "But, you should have told me this was a family dinner. I would have asked my brother to take me home."
"Kitty, of course you're coming with us," Ellie reassured her. "Daddy and Henry are going to talk business all evening long, and Dick is going to abandon me the first chance he gets, aren't you, big brother?"
"Well, with such a lovely guest, I might be tempted to stay." Again, there was that wink.
Kitty couldn't shake the feeling that she was intruding. It did not improve when Ellie knocked on the office doors and her father came out.
"Ah, Miss Morland," he said, putting on his hat. "You still here?"
Before Kitty could stutter that she was just leaving, Ellie informed him, "She's coming with us. I promised her dinner after taking such good care of me the last week. You understand."
The old man grunted in acknowledgement. "Then get your coat," he said. "And where's Henry?" As if on cue, Mr. Henry's door opened and he emerged, shrugging into his jacket.
"Kitty's coming with us," Ellie told her brother. "Isn't it grand?"
Mr. Henry didn't get the opportunity to respond as his father hurried them out the door toward the elevators. They piled into the car and drove to another restaurant Kitty had no business walking into. Mr. Richard was excellent at small talk, telling stories that were full of heroism and humor. He would have kept them entertained as long as he remained at their table except that his father eventually interrupted him.
"And how are you getting settled, Richard?"
"Like a dream," he answered. "Dizzy is a rare find. Had I known it'd be like this, I would have tried to get out of the Air Corps earlier." It wasn't until he leaned into Kitty and said in a conspiratorial hush, "I hear she saved your bacon with Thorpe," that she realized with some discomfort that Dizzy was Miss Oliver.
Satisfied with his eldest, Mr. Tilney turned to his other son. "And you're off to California again on Saturday with Miss Morland?"
Henry opened his mouth, but Ellie is the one who spoke. "California! Kitty, you never said a word! You've got to take me with you, Henry!"
Again Henry started to speak, but his father preempted him. "Of course you can go with Miss Morland."
There was a small explosion of conversation at the table as the others reacted to the news. Mr. Tilney cut them off. "Eleanor will be perfectly behaved out there with Miss Morland to accompany her. And if she isn't, she won't get as far west as Philadelphia until she's married and someone else's problem."
"But Miss Morland has not yet agreed to go," Henry at last grit out.
"What? But that's impossible!" Ellie was incredulous. "Of course she's going, we both are."
"I've almost decided to go," she said, remembering Mr. Henry's suggestion, "but I want to talk with my family first."
"Shall I talk with your parents, Miss Morland?" asked Mr. Tilney, solicitously. "I'm sure I can persuade them. Where are they now?"
"I was going to talk with one of them in the morning." The last thing she wanted was to introduce Mr. Tilney to Jimmy. "I'm sure they'll be fine with it."
She was sure Mr. Henry disapproved that she gave in so easily to his father, but really, the man intimidated her! How could she keep her head about her when Mr. Tilney glared at her like that? Even when he was being kind, he still made her nervous. Plus, she had just about decided to go. Was it really browbeating if that's what she was going to do anyway?
Dick Tilney leaned into Kitty's ear. "I cannot stand the suspense. You must tell me how it ends later." With that, he kissed her cheek and left the table. Kitty stared after him in confusion, wondering what that was about. Ellie just tsked and shook her head.
"Miss Morland, I realize it is an imposition," continued the chairman, "but I hope you won't begrudge me. I'm prepared to make it up to you by letting you take Eleanor with you. You girls are getting to be such good friends, I'd hate to put a damper on things now."
"Let me talk to her, Daddy," said Ellie before her father said too much. She guided Kitty away from the table and to the powder room. Once there, she practically begged Kitty to agree to this scheme.
"But what if I screw up?" Kitty asked. "Mr. Tilney will be furious with me."
"Even if you screw up, we'll still be there, dining and dancing every night with movie stars. Besides, if you do everything perfectly, we'll hardly have a reason to go a second time." It was clear that Ellie was already determined. The irresistible force had finally managed to sway the immovable object; what chance did Kitty have when she was already half persuaded?
Posted on 2014-06-19
As expected, Mavis Allen had been over the moon with vicarious excitement at the thought of Kitty going to Hollywood, even for work. Had she been less of a friend, she'd have become sick with jealousy, but she was sincerely happy and willing to take over as much preparation as possible, picking out the clothes to pack in Kitty's suitcase, making a list of famous places to visit if she had time, and even suggesting one or two mementos to bring back as a gift to her friend.
Kitty was more worried about how her brother, Jimmy, would react. He wasn't going to take it well. When she found him Thursday morning in his break room, he was instantly suspicious. It was her strategy to get to the heart of the matter as quickly as possible, so with a minimum of small talk, she announced that she had to travel to California that Saturday.
"What for?" he asked.
"For work," she said. "Mr. Tilney wants me to accompany Mr. Henry on his business trip."
"Henry as in Henry Tilney, his son? That's the guy hanging around your desk two weeks ago, wasn't it? Is something going on between you?"
Kitty blushed as she looked around, trying to calculate how many people were overhearing this. "Absolutely not!" she whispered hoarsely. "What is wrong with you? Of course not, he's my boss now."
"Weren't you working for Thorpe?" he asked. Given his expected reaction, she hadn't told him about her change in employment. She also knew Jimmy wouldn't seek out rumors about her on his own. Kitty could only be grateful that her brother hadn't heard through the office grapevine that Thorpe had tried to fire her.
"Mr. Tilney reassigned me on over a week ago," explained Kitty like it was a well-established fact. "And he asked me to travel to California last night. There's not a lot of high quality secretaries out there."
"So he's sending you three-thousand miles, alone, with his son?"
"No, not alone," Kitty said. "Mr. Henry's sister Ellie is also coming. She's my friend.'
Jimmy stared at her as if he didn't recognize her anymore. "How do you know these people? You've been working here a few months and already you're chummy with the chairman's family, going on fancy vacations on the company dime. You're in over your head, you know. This can't end well."
"Jimmy, I don't need you to approve," she said, knowing she had implied otherwise to Mr. Tilney. "I just wanted you to know."
She left him and ascended the elevator to the executive floor. She had neglected to tell her brother all the details of her trip; the biggest of which was that she was staying with the Tilneys.
When she had bowed to Ellie's and her father's wishes, Mr. Tilney had demonstrated magnanimity in declaring that Miss Morland should stay with Ellie and Henry. That would simplify everything. She would not need to find a hotel for herself, she wouldn't have to worry about driving, and after she punched out for the evening, she could meet up with Ellie much more easily. Mr. Henry had fidgeted uncomfortably with the new dictum, but kept quiet about it. Kitty wanted to hear his opinion on the subject, but there had been no opportunity to speak with him privately; last night, he had not asked her to dance.
She started her morning reviewing the box of files that she had begun yesterday for the trip. There was more to add to it, more to organize. She needed to make sure everything Mr. Henry -- and Kitty herself -- needed for the trip was boxed up and ready to go. Her day was consumed with a thousand small details and tiny conversations with Mr. Henry.
"It's not you," he assured her on one occasion when she asked about his distraction. "It's never you. It's my father. I'm sure he's up to something but I don't know what. If you would have asked me twenty-four hours ago if he'd ever let Ellie go to Hollywood, even with a dowdy, gimlet-eyed chaperone, I would have said never in a million years. I mean, she's his favorite -- Daddy's Little Girl and all that -- but there are limits. Now, he's letting her go with only you and I to watch over her. Either he's giving her just enough rope to hang herself with, or he's..." he trailed off, unable to imagine another alternative.
"Do you think we'll be that bad?" she asked, unable to countenance disappointing him or his family.
Henry frowned. "For eight hours a day, we'll be too busy to keep tabs on her. Granted, Princess Eleanor will sleep through half of them, but the remainder will be more than enough for any mischief she's got her heart set on. You forget, the love of her life is out there and doesn't yet realize he's waiting for her. What would you do in her shoes?"
But it was too far-fetched for Kitty to imagine herself in a similar situation. In all her dreams of being the plucky heroine, she never once expected she'd have to seek out her own hero. She always thought that, when the time was right, he'd find her. She went back to her desk with a new sense of worry. Once again, what trouble had she gotten into?
On Friday, Kitty went down to payroll to cash her check to be able to pay the second installment of her loan to Mr. Henry. Taking a small detour back to her desk, she walked through the halls, keeping far from Mr. Thorpe's corner of the floor. She ran into Miss Oliver looking like the cat who swallowed the canary.
"Looking forward for your week-long getaway?" asked Miss Oliver, the friendliest Kitty had ever known her.
"But it's for work," Kitty said, hoping to correct any misunderstanding.
The look Miss Oliver gave her showed no change of perception. "Then maybe the captain can find some work for me in Vermont next weekend. After all, if his little brother can do it, what's to stop him?"
Kitty found herself turning red, but she squared her shoulders just the same. "If you think that, then you're very much mistaken." She was indignant and mortified all at once. She walked away with her chin up, vowing not to speak to Miss Oliver again for a good long while.
She got through the day without hearing any more ugly innuendo although she considered asking Miss Girard for her opinion only to lose her courage at the last moment. In the end, Kitty broached the subject with Mavis on the subway home.
"Do you think there's anything funny in my going to California with Mr. Henry for work?" she asked.
Mavis didn't even pause for thought. "Of course not! At least, not with his sister there. I think it would've been a different story with Mr. Thorpe."
That fit so perfectly with Kitty's views, that it didn't occur to her that Mavis might not be the best authority. Her friend's words set her instantly at ease. Miss Oliver was merely being difficult like always.
She sat back, an audience member, when Ellie arrived at Pulteney Street soon after, and watched her two friends pick apart her wardrobe until there was not a stitch worthy to wear, day or night. Then, with the resignation that there was nothing to be done at so late an hour, they concocted a set of outfits that would get Kitty through her days with minimum embarrassment amid all those starlets. For after work, Ellie would simply pack a few more evening gowns. Mavis provided most of the shoes, and a robe.
"I'm not letting you go anywhere with that ratty old thing!" she had warned as she made the switch.
The flight left New York in the morning. The Tilneys picked her up and drove with her to the airport. Mr. Tilney saw them all off and proved to be somewhat affectionate in parting from his daughter.
It took all day to travel to California. By the time the car pulled into the driveway of a mission-style house, it was dark and Kitty could barely keep her eyes open. Though she had done not much beyond sit down all day, she was exhausted. It had been her first time in a plane of any kind; it had been exciting and frightening and wonderful, and it drained her.
She tried to be a good sport about it, and the house was fascinating, but after enjoying a light meal set out by the housekeeper, it was all Ellie could do to point her towards the spare bedroom and wish her a good night.
When morning came, she was suddenly and completely awake. It was a strange sensation, as she typically took a good quarter-hour to come to her senses. She lay in bed just the same, taking stock of her surroundings. Satisfied when the sensation of strangeness wore off, she rose and pulled on the robe that Mavis had insisted on.
As she maneuvered through the house towards the scent of breakfast, she again observed the details that hadn't made much of an impression the night before. The housekeeper saw her and directed her to the patio by the pool where she had set out the breakfast table in the open air.
Mr. Henry was already there, obscured behind the newspaper, a plate of toast and a cup of coffee set out in front of him.
"Where's Ellie?" Kitty asked, worried about eating alone with Mr. Henry.
Henry set aside his paper. "Have I not warned you previously of Princess Eleanor and the hours she keeps?" he asked in mock seriousness, before shrugging much like his sister. "It's only six in the morning but who knows how she reacts to the jet lag? It's already nine back home, so she might be up in another hour."
"Six!" Kitty was stunned. It felt as if she had slept for days.
"Yes, just," Henry said, picking up his paper. "I find watching the sunrise my perfect cure for jetlag. Something about it resets the internal chronometer."
"But what am I to do until she wakes up?" asked Kitty. The two of them were just sitting around in their robes. What must the housekeeper think?
"Let's start with breakfast," suggested Henry matter-of-factly, ignorant of anything improper. "If Ellie's still not up after that, I can give you a tour of the house -- a proper one this time --, or you can plan what you're going to do today. I warn you, however, that my sister was devastated that you went to bed so early last night, ruining her hopes of a night in the arms of some Lothario. I had to swear on the grave of our dead mother that I would take her out tonight. You too, if you can stay awake that long, so you might need to schedule a nap this afternoon, just to be rested for it."
Kitty chastised him lightly for speaking so of his sister, and he assured her he meant no harm. "But being the most accommodating of all Tilneys, I must fight back somehow," he added.
"I have no idea what we ought to do today," she said after the first sip of coffee.
"Nonsense," he countered. "I bet you have a list of things to do and places to see in that suitcase of yours."
Kitty gasped at being so transparent, even if the list wasn't her own. Henry peeked at her from around the business section, and started chuckling.
"I'm sorry, Kitty," he said, "but the look of your face is priceless."
"Mr. Henry," she began, but he interrupted her.
"Call me Henry now," he told her. "You are the close, personal friend of my sister, staying in my home, at the invitation of my father. If that doesn't give you the right to call me Henry, I don't know what does in this day and age."
"Henry," she tried again.
"I'm so sorry," interrupted Henry. "Did you want some of the paper?" He handed her the society section.
"Henry!" she said. Was he always so impossible to talk to in the morning? "I wanted to ask you about tomorrow. Why am I here?"
He leaned back in his chair, meditatively. "Help me salvage this deal. What did you understand about it from the notes you waded through?"
Kitty lifted her shoulders in futility. "Just that Northanger is going to rent its name to Woodston Women's Clothing in exchange for--"
"We're what?" He sat forward quickly, knocking the table and jingling the silverware. "Good grief, no wonder things are disintegrating out here. No, we're attempting to purchase them in their entirety: buildings, merchandise and contracts. They have five stores and it gives us a toehold out here. Plus, they have some exclusive clothing designers that we can manufacture on a larger scale and sell in the rest of our stores." He paused thoughtfully. "Did you honestly think we were going to sell the Northanger name?"
"Not really," said Kitty although she really wasn't sure. "I mean, it didn't make sense, but that's what I could decipher from the notes."
He smiled painfully. "My father is seldom wrong," he admitted. "He just expresses the truth in such a way as makes it hard to swallow. Beverly -- the last girl I used out here -- meant well, she really did, but she was, not to put too fine a point on it, awful. I would stop far short of calling it sabotage; I don't think any harm was intentionally done, but he's right. I need a real secretary out here."
Kitty smiled in agreement.
"So how did you end up such a good secretary?" he asked her.
Kitty glowed a little under his attention and answered his question as best she could, in a rambling fashion that covered two decades, nine siblings, and dozens of cousins. Madison was the most fun adventure of her life. New York had been more exciting, but much more scary at the same time. Her parents had given her a small allowance when she was at school; it had not been much, but it covered basic expenses with enough left over for her to go out on a Friday night. New York was different: her parents were not keen to have her go that far from home, so they were disinclined to give her further assistance in the hopes she would come home sooner. She earned her own money and paid her own way. She even sent money back to her parents to help them afford to send her sister to the same college, it was her way of expressing gratitude for being given her chance.
She babbled on at Henry's encouragement until Ellie appeared, fully dressed and eager to begin the day.
"What are you two doing, still in your pajamas?" she asked, appalled. "Go on, get dressed. We've got things to do today, and they don't involve lounging about the house."
Eleanor marshalled her troops to their respective rooms and monitored them closely until they emerged again, ready for whatever activities she had planned. She had already ordered the car brought to the door and had managed to help herself to some breakfast. Ellie linked arms with Kitty and dragged her to the front door with all the exuberance of a puppy going for a walk. Henry trailed in their wake, amused by it all.
Ellie kept them in constant motion during the day. There were false starts aplenty: she kept wanting to take Kitty into expensive shops, but her brother just put his foot down. In the end, they had criss-crossed all over Hollywood without spotting a single movie star. It left Ellie disappointed, and desperate to find one.
They returned home to dress for dinner. Mr. Henry had prepared what he deemed "a treat" for the girls: he was taking them to a supper club with a live band. To make it more bearable for himself, he had invited his friend Howard Ashley to join them. Mr. Ashley would meet them at the house in an hour, and the four would drive together to the restaurant.
"An hour!" Ellie exclaimed in dismay. "We'll never be ready by then!"
"I suggest you try," teased her brother, "for Howard doesn't like to wait."
Spurred by the fear that she might be left behind, she dragged Kitty down the hall to her room and threw open the closet. Mrs. Harman, the housekeeper, had already pressed and hung all of Ellie's clothes so it was only matter of deciding which dresses she and Kitty were to wear.
"What do you think?" she asked eagerly as she pulled out a royal blue satin gown and held it against herself.
"Oh, Ellie," Kitty breathed, "it's lovely."
"It's yours." Ellie thrust the hanger into Kitty's arms without ceremony. "This is mine," she announced as she removed a second gown from the closet and again held it up to her.
Kitty gaped. The dress was beautiful: red, off the shoulders, a low front and an even lower back. It was entirely too mature for her friend. How was it even to stay up?
"Ellie, are you sure?" asked Kitty, trying to be polite. "Isn't it a bit low-cut? Won't you be chilly?"
"Oh, it comes with a wrap." Ellie was undeterred, and she pulled a small bolt of black satin out of the closet and arranged it over her shoulders. "Isn't it divine?"
Kitty frowned, not knowing what to say or how to say it. "Are you sure your brother will like it?" she asked delicately.
Ellie shrugged dismissively. "I'm not wearing it for his sake. Besides, we're not ready to get dressed yet. We still have to do our makeup and hair, and I need to paint my nails. Get your stuff from your room and we'll set up camp in here for now."
Kitty did as she was bid, fetching her makeup case and everything else she might need. It would not do to go wandering the halls half-dressed just before Mr. Ashley was due to arrive.
Ellie was even better than Mavis at hair. Kitty was not as skilled, but was also not above menial labor to make amends for it, and when it came to faces, she had a hidden genius. Ellie couldn't get over the transformation.
"If I could do magic like that," she remarked, "I'd do it every day."
Kitty laughed at the thought. "It isn't very appropriate for work. I don't think your father would appreciate his secretaries coming to the office like this."
"I'm sure you could find other men there who don't mind it," Ellie replied archly. The comment reminded Kitty of Mr. Thorpe, and it diminished her glow.
The girls were just about ready to step into their dresses when they heard the doorbell ring. The sound sent Ellie into a panic.
"Come on, Kitty!" she squealed, flapping her hands around to dry the lacquer. "Help me!" Her manners were momentarily forgotten as she fretted that her brother and his friend might leave without the girls if it suited them.
Kitty held the dress for her to step into but she fidgeted too much for Kitty to grab the zipper, much less pull it up, and the delay only served to drive her into a lather.
"Calm down," Kitty said, trying to soothe her. It would benefit no one if Ellie's skin got pinched in the zipper. "I'm sure Mr. Ashley doesn't want to leave immediately. Your brother will offer him a drink. That will give us an extra quarter-hour," reasoned Kitty.
Miraculously, that logic did the trick, and Ellie was able to calm down enough not only for Kitty to finish zipping her up, but also for Ellie to perform the same service for her friend.
Still, Ellie was overcome with excitement, and as soon as her shoes were buckled, she left the room, throwing the wrap across her shoulders as she went. "I'll tell them you're coming," said she as she stepped hurriedly into the hall.
Kitty opened her mouth to ask her friend to wait, then shut it. She felt herself transforming from heroine to sidekick. Restraining Ellie right now was futile; would she be more reasonable later, after she got the first taste of freedom?
Posted on 2014-06-24
Kitty Morland buckled her shoes and gave her reflection a final check to make sure that everything was in place. Satisfied with their combined handiwork, she followed her friend into the hall, turning off the lights as she went. She could hear the Tilneys and Mr. Ashley, and tracked the sounds of conversation to the living room.
Mr. Ashley had just announced, "You may not know me, Miss Tilney, but your brother has told me enough stories about you that I feel as if we are old friends," when the sound of her heels on the tile floor attracted their attention. The trio turned as one to face her and Henry began to make an introduction.
"And this is my sister's good friend..." His voice trailed off and a curious expression clouded his face, as if he had gotten it wrong, that this girl in front of him was not who he was expecting. It was as if this Kitty Morland was not the same one he had spent so much of the last two weeks with, not the one who had been his nearly constant companion over the last two days. She was obviously not his secretary, and there was no way anyone would ever believe she had once run him over with a mail cart. She was, in fact, a complete stranger to him.
Mr. Henry's friend took no notice of the lapsed introduction. Instead, he stepped forward to shake her hand. "Howard Ashley," he called himself. "And you are?"
"Kitty," she said. "Kitty Morland." It felt much less unnatural to greet a stranger than to be stared at by her boss.
"Miss Morland," he repeated. Then his hand stilled but he did not release her. "You're not... You're not the Catherine Morland."
It wasn't exactly a question and it wasn't exactly a declaration, and Kitty didn't know how to respond to it. She looked to her two friends for guidance, but they looked equally confused.
"Well, I was named for my grandmother," she stammered at last. "I suppose she is the original Catherine Morland."
Mr. Ashley laughed but continued to hold her hand. "No, I mean Catherine Morland, the heiress."
Kitty yanked her fingers free. "No, I'm not," she said.
Ellie was amused, and laughed at the thought. "Kitty? An heiress?" She had seen enough of her dear friend's frugality to find it comical that anyone could imagine such a thing.
"Who is this other Miss Morland?" Henry asked, his curiosity piqued.
"Who is she? And I thought New Yorkers were in the know! But I suppose she's too nouveau riche for your tastes," his friend remarked. "Her family's in oil in Texas. They're coated in it, swimming in it as a matter of fact. And she's daddy's pampered princess. They sent her off to Europe more than half a year ago, for etiquette. At least that's the official line. No one's seen hide nor hair of her since then." He turned back to Kitty. "She's supposed to be a bit of a troublemaker, I'm afraid, a redhead with a weakness for musicians," he admitted, contrasting the girl before him with the rumor.
"I'm no redhead," Kitty protested, anxious to end this comparison.
"Neither is Rita Hayworth. Hair color doesn't mean anything these days," Ellie pointed out, which was no help at all.
"Look," Henry stepped into the fray. "Kitty's not an heiress. This sounds like a bad case of mistaken identity from one of your unbelievable melodramas, Ellie. All we need now is a dead body and a cache of stolen jewels."
Ellie was not ready to put the idea aside. "But, oh! Kitty can you imagine it? Having a fortune like that?"
"It sounds more trouble than it's worth," frowned Kitty. "Besides, your father wouldn't let us come out here together if he thought I'd be a bad influence."
That last line sealed it for Ellie, and she was genuinely glad her friend was poor.
Mr. Ashley chuckled in good humor. "I didn't mean to upset you, Miss Morland. I hope you'll forgive me, it's just that one so often meets famous people out here, one begins to suspect them in every house.
"Speaking of the house," he turned the conversation, "how is it? It looks like you haven't changed a thing."
"Nothing but the sheets. It's fine the way it is," Henry answered. Kitty silently agreed with him. From the tiny, antique écritoire in her room, to the patterned paper on the kitchen walls, to the placement of the table and chairs for breakfast, it was all charming and perfectly satisfactory.
"The way it is!" Ellie exclaimed. "Surely you must have changed something! I would feel like an interloper living among other people's things."
"Oh, but fitting up a house is a wife's duty," Mr. Ashley said in reply. "And the dear woman who decorated this house had such a good eye that it'd be a shame to throw everything out."
"Have you been here before, Mr. Ashley?" asked Ellie.
"Yes!" he said, warming to the subject. "I knew the previous owners. I slept a night or two in the blue bedroom."
"That's my room!" piped Kitty.
"The best room in the house," he agreed. "It was I who talked Henry into buying it, sight unseen."
"You bought a house without even looking at it?" Kitty blurted out in amazement.
"You make me sound dangerously impulsive," Henry chided her. "I trusted Howard here to guide me, and I couldn't waste a lot of time looking at properties. I needed a permanent place to stay and quickly. I had already spent two weeks in various hotels, and wasn't about to fly out here again without some place decent to sleep."
Mr. Ashley picked up the story line. "The previous owners, Baron and Baroness Gestadt, had returned to Europe after the war to help with rebuilding. The house had been vacant for months and they were finally willing to sell so long as it was discreet. I just happened to know Henry was looking to buy; it was a happy coincidence."
"A Baron!" Ellie enthused, caught up in a titled romance. "How exciting! Shame on you, Henry, for not telling me sooner."
"I know you too well," he offered as his excuse. "You would have kept the whole house up last night, looking for safes and secret hiding places."
"There's always tonight," she quipped.
"And I'll be sure to call Howard at two in the morning to thank him, if we're up."
"Let's go, shall we?" Mr. Ashley asked. "We don't want to be more late than is fashionable. Otherwise, they'll give our table away."
The drive to The Arrow Club was just long enough to ensure the ice was broken. The foursome entered in high spirits and were soon seated. By the time their salads arrived, they were the best of friends.
As the waiters cleared the dishes from everyone's main course, replacing it with a small dessert plate, the dance floor darkened, conversation hushed, and a voice announced the evening's star performer, Morris Fielding.
Mr. Fielding was not really a star, but he had enough natural talent to look handsome, speak expressively, and sing well to make up for much of what he lacked, which included a studio contract. He entertained the crowd as he was paid to do, and the girls found him charming.
When his set was over, the lights were brought back up. The next act was instrumental, and dancing music to boot. Couples began a thread their way onto the floor. Mr. Ashley turned to Kitty and asked her to dance. Of course she agreed.
In the relative privacy of the dance floor, he asked her again, "Are you sure you're not the other Miss Morland? Are you sure the Tilneys know which Miss Morland you are?"
"Absolutely they know!" Kitty assured him. She had never made any effort to hide her meager earnings or her humble beginnings. She had been, perhaps, too honest at times, thinking of how she had spent the morning telling Mr. Henry details of growing up in Wisconsin.
Mr. Ashley chuckled at her earnestness. Girls in Hollywood were not usually so sincere unless the role demanded it. "So how long have you known Miss Tilney?" The two girls had seemed like good friends.
Kitty did a quick calculation. "I suppose it will be two weeks tomorrow," she summed up.
"Two weeks?" He stumbled a step. "You seem so close." He clearly didn't understand how quickly friendships formed.
"It's been a whirlwind," admitted Kitty. She wanted to move the conversation away from herself. "So how long have you known Mr. Henry?"
"From years back. We met at university and fell in with the same crowd. He was always telling stories about his big brother, the Army pilot, and his little sister, the pigtailed scamp. It's amazing to see her now, after hearing about her as-- well, nothing like what she is today." There was a soft glow in his eyes and his head automatically swiveled to where the Tilneys still sat at their table.
Kitty smiled softly; even she could see the man was smitten. Or course, with a dress like that, most of the men in the room were smitten. Henry had been the obvious and natural exception. When Ellie finally removed her wrap to leave it with the coat check, her brother looked anything but approving. And in a quiet voice that had enough force to speak his seriousness, he told her that she had better enjoy that dress tonight, "because you won't be wearing it again until it's out of style." He gave Kitty a similar look of disapproval and she had wilted under it. Mr. Tilney had trusted his daughter to Kitty's care and on their first night out she had proven herself unworthy of that trust.
As they danced, Mr. Ashley regaled her with warmed over stories of Ellie's childhood. It was an odd sensation, hearing Mr. Henry's tales told by someone else, but it amused her nonetheless, and it gave her a better knowledge of the Tilneys' formative years.
At the end of the song, he guided her back to their table. After helping her into her chair, he turned to Ellie and asked her to join him. She smiled and placed her hand in his. Without a backwards glance, they were gone.
Henry Tilney was quiet, pensive, but Kitty did not give him time to shake himself from his reverie under his own power.
"I'm sorry about Ellie's dress," she said. "I didn't think it'd be that bad."
He made a sour face. "I suppose it will all come to no harm so long as she doesn't sneeze."
Kitty cringed and would have apologized a second time but he pre-empted her. "I can't imagine where she got a dress like that, or how the old man let her keep it if he knew. I'm beginning to think he's slipping, which is scarier than any evening gown."
She didn't know what to say, but an apology sounded fitting. As she opened her mouth, however, he spoke up. "So have you ever heard of the other Miss Morland?"
"Of course I have," she admitted freely. It was a relief to change the topic, even to this one. "With the same name as her, of course I'd hear of her eventually. But at home in Wiltshire, there are so many Morlands that nobody pays her half a thought. It was different in Madison. Suddenly some boy who never noticed me before would act like I was the cat's pajamas. Then his friends would inform him that I wasn't rich and famous, and he'd go back to ignoring me."
"Then why did you act like you didn't know who Howard was talking about?"
"Well, when I moved to New York, people quit asking me about her," she said. "I sort of forgot. As Mr. Howard said, no one's heard about her for nearly a year." She threw in a shrug for good measure; truly no one -- not even Mavis Allen -- had mentioned Kitty's namesake since she had starting working at Northanger Federated.
She began to hope for another change in the conversation, but she struggled with what to say. Finally she blurted out, "So what shall I do tomorrow? What is the schedule?"
Henry was not enthused to talk business, but he obliged. "Breakfast at 7:30, office by nine. We'll take a half-hour to get the day sorted. Meetings start at 9:30; you'll take notes and I'll see what can be done to salvage this deal. You may be called upon from time to time to unearth the original notes from Beverly, just enough for us to attempt to interpret them. Woodston will no doubt try to remember the terms of the deal as being more favorable to them than we had agreed to. I don't blame them for that; I'm half tempted to do it myself," -- a look from Kitty stopped him -- "but I won't. Is that enough, at least to start with?"
Kitty smiled and nodded. In doing so, she accidentally caught the eye of a passing gentleman whom she soon recognized as Morris Fielding. He approached the table and, with an air of noble supplication, asked for an introduction. Henry Tilney gave it warily. Having obtained the cherished information he sought, Mr. Fielding was able to freely discard the man and focus his attention on Kitty, begging a dance from her. She looked to Mr. Henry for guidance; she did not want to leave him alone at the table. If he didn't want her to go, surely she had better stay.
Henry had enjoyed the singer's performance, but found him to be much more tedious up close, and suspected he would hassle Kitty indefinitely to win his dance. Henry would much rather get it over quickly, for both of them.
Kitty felt a little betrayed by Mr. Henry, and she frowned as she was lead onto the dance floor.
"You do not look very pleased, Miss Morland," her partner observed. "I see I have my work cut out for me." He then made a valiant attempt, explaining that while it was part of his job to mingle with the guests, he focused his attention on the prettiest girls. He was a good dancer, and made pleasant conversation, but there was something about him that didn't sit well with her. On stage, his over-the-top manners were perfectly fitting, but up close, they were excessive and contrived.
He found reasons to compliment everything about her: her hair, her dress, her eyes, her dancing ability, her shoulders, her accent, even her lips. It made her feel so very self conscious, and much of it she could not take any credit for. The blue dress was gorgeous; anyone would look beautiful in it. Perhaps if Kitty was wearing something plainer or that showed her figure to less advantage, Mr. Fielding wouldn't find so many nice things to say about her.
Their conversation was not solely him giving compliments and her receiving them. He also talked a great deal about himself, what he did, what he wanted to do. Kitty supposed it sounded very romantic, but she'd prefer to see it acted out on the screen rather than recounted on a dance floor.
He returned again to her accent, which had to be the cutest thing he'd ever heard. Surely she could tell him where it came from. Kitty, who had taken pains to soften and improve her accent since coming to New York, was embarrassed to have him notice it. She tried to be avoid a direct answer.
"Oh, someplace west of here," was all she said.
Mr. Fielding mistook her ambiguity for playfulness, making a game out of guessing. He would say a state with a sparkle in his eye that would grow brighter at each denial. He guessed twenty or so before he finally delivered his coup: "Texas."
Apparently the other Miss Morland, as Kitty had learned to call her, was even more famous in California than in Madison. No doubt the proximity to Texas, and Catherine Morland's frequent trips to Los Angeles factored into it. Mr. Ashley had heard of her, and Mr. Fielding too. If everyone she met made the same assumption, it was going to be a long week.
"I'm afraid you have me confused with someone else," she said stiffly. She had experienced enough rejection at this point that she had no desire to rush headlong into it.
She was saved from enlightening him further by the appearance of Mr. Henry who begged forgiveness as he asked to cut in, "but, you see, they're playing our song."
Mr. Fielding looked a little nervous at that remark, as if he had been caught poaching, but as neither Henry nor Kitty seemed horribly offended that he had danced with one woman for so long, he handed her off with good grace and returned to the crowd to mingle.
Kitty waited until Mr. Fielding was out of earshot before quietly scolding her new partner. "We do not have a song. What is he supposed to think, hearing that?"
"Who? Him?" Henry was all innocence. "That man you'll never see again? The one who monopolized you for the better part of four dances, despite the fact that you came with two perfectly competent dance partners and you had spent the last song shooting glances off like signal flares in the hope of being rescued? That man? Trust me, Kitty, he thinks too well of himself to think about us."
She was hardly mollified by the validity of his arguments. "Mr. Henry, we don't have a song."
"We didn't have a song last time. You didn't mind then."
"I wasn't your secretary two weeks ago," she retorted.
"Good heavens," he exclaimed. "Has it really been two weeks?" He was amazed, and Kitty could only share the sentiment.
He teased her no more, but diverted their energies to dancing. Dancing with Mr. Henry was an altogether different experience from dancing with Mr. Ashley or Mr. Fielding. Perhaps Mr. Ashley was not very good after all, but Kitty refused to dwell on it.
After a few songs, they returned to the table to find Ellie and Mr. Ashley sitting with Morris Fielding.
The seated trio greeted the returning pair. Mr. Fielding reserved an amused, "Wisconsin!" for Kitty, and a knowing smirk for Mr. Henry.
Having lost his seat to Mr. Henry, Mr. Fielding did not stay long; he was on the clock and not at liberty. As he rose, however, he confirmed a lunch date with Miss Tilney for the following day.
"You can't possibly be serious about having lunch with him tomorrow," Henry told his sister after the man had left them.
"And why not?" she countered. "Everyone else I've met in California has to work tomorrow. Am I supposed to stay home and starve?"
The two bickered over the topic but as Henry would not be available to escort his sister to lunch personally, his loss was only a matter of time.
Kitty stifled a yawn which drew everyone's attention to the hour. Ellie could have danced all night, but the men and Kitty had to get up early the next day, so they broke up their party and left.
Mr. Ashley had learned a lesson from earlier in the evening. On the ride home, he didn't bring up any stories that might embarrass Ellie. Instead, he recounted what he knew of the Baron and Baroness Gestadt. The girls had heard and read enough stories, and watched enough movies, to find it fascinating, and they listened with rapt attention and made all the right noises in all the right places.
The Baroness was half-Jewish, which was enough to put both of them at risk when being a Jew became a crime. They travelled to England ostensibly to attend an art auction which was extended to a visit to New York. Before the ship reached the United States, their property had been seized by the state. They had wisely brought enough money and jewels with them to finance an extended life in exile. After a brief tour of the east coast, they moved west and eventually settled in California. They had a child after they bought the house-- a daughter named Gretchen who spoke flawless English. She was their only child and they spoiled her accordingly. Separated from their wealth by distance and war, they lived frugally; Herr Baron found employment as a scene painter at one of the movie studios, and Frau Baroness occasionally designed pieces for a local jeweler.
When the war was over and they began to hear from friends who encouraged them to return, they decided it was time. They closed up their house, packed up what remained of their wealth, and returned to Germany. Eventually, they sold the place and all its furnishings to Henry Tilney.
The only piece which had accompanied their escape that was neither sold nor accounted for was a gold and sapphire bracelet. The housekeeper had one day discovered two-year-old Gretchen playing with her mother's jewelry box but, even after searching the house many times, the bracelet was never found. For all anyone knew, it was still in the house.
Posted on 2014-06-27
The history of the Baron and Baroness Gestadt was enough to awaken all sorts of thoughts in the two girls. To think: a gold and sapphire bracelet might be hidden somewhere in the house! Mr. Henry read their thoughts easily, and forbade them from hunting for it.
Howard Ashley took the Tilneys and Miss Morland to their front door but did not come in. After all, tomorrow was Monday and Kitty and the men had to go to work in the morning.
After bidding goodnight to his friend, Mr. Henry wasted little time. He informed his sister with all the authority of an older brother that he was confiscating her dress. "You can get it back in New York, whenever the old man says so. Kitty, I hate to ask it, but will you help Ellie out if the dress? It looks like a two-person job. I'll be in the kitchen when you're ready to hand it over."
The two friends repaired to Miss Tilney's room. As they readied themselves for bed, they reviewed the day.
Howard Ashley, they both agreed, was a very nice man. Kitty would have gone further in her praise, believing Mr. Ashley to be very polite and well-mannered. He had been kind and attentive to her even after he found out she wasn't rich, which was not always the case. Ellie, on the other hand, was less inclined to be generous in her opinion of a man who had been told -- and then retold -- such embarrassing stories of her youth.
Morris Fielding was another character on which the two friends had to agree to disagree in the warmth of their appreciation. Kitty did not quite trust him; he reminded her too much of men who had briefly shown an interest in her when she lived in Madison. He was suave and debonair, and his veneer was applied too well for Kitty to have any idea of the real man beneath. Ellie, however, found him perfectly delightful. He was exactly how she imagined a Hollywood star to look and act. He had asked Ellie to dance after Henry had dismissed him from Kitty's side, and the two had got on famously.
"The look on his face," said Ellie, fighting a laugh, "when I told him you were from Wisconsin! Oh, it was priceless. I almost felt sorry for him. And when he found out that you were Henry's secretary! The man couldn't believe it. It was as if his entire world had turned upside down."
Ellie was still amused, giggling at the memory of Mr. Fielding's comical disbelief. She did not notice her friend's low looks, but kept on talking as she brushed her hair. "And I can't believe the nerve of Henry, implying to Mr. Fielding that you and my brother are an item! You're his secretary for crying out loud--"
Ellie had caught a glimpse of Kitty's face in the mirror and it stopped her cold.
"Oh, Kitty," she apologized. "I don't mean it like that! You're a perfectly wonderful person. It's just that chasing after secretaries is something that John Thorpe would do. Even Dick might stoop that low on occasion, but Henry knows better. He doesn't even realize it, I'm sure."
"Realize what?" asked Kitty with trepidation.
"That you're half in love with him already," Ellie shrugged.
Ellie might be unmoved by the declaration, but Kitty nearly fainted dead away.
"How?" was all she could say. How did Ellie figure it out? How obvious was it? How many people knew?
Ellie smiled gently. "I could tell as soon as we met. You remember how upset you were that I was Miss Tilney rather than Miss Henry. All of my friends have fallen in love with one or the other of my brothers so, really, I'm used to it by now. But don't worry: Henry is oblivious to his crushes."
Kitty wished she could find solace in that, but she was still speechless.
"If I had to choose which brother broke your heart, it would have to be Henry," Ellie said, failing to provide real comfort. "He doesn't flirt, not intentionally. He never does if he suspects you'd take him seriously. Dick, on the other hand, tries to flirt with everything that moves. If he thinks you like him, if you flirt back, well, he just ups the ante. And he just keeps going until you end up in hot water or he gets distracted by someone else. But Henry doesn't mean any harm. I don't think he even realizes he's doing it. He's just being overly friendly in a perfectly clueless way, I'm sure of it. I'll speak to him--"
"No!" Kitty found her voice, and with a vengeance. She couldn't face Mr. Henry if he knew. No matter what, Ellie couldn't tell her brother.
"I'm not going to tell him how you feel," Ellie assured her friend. "Let that mystery remain unsolved. I just want him to watch how he behaves, be a little more circumspect. If the old man suspected any funny business, it wouldn't end well."
KItty was not persuaded, and continued to argue against it until Ellie displayed a firmer hand. "Do you want him keep giving you attention, paying compliments to you, dancing with you, all the while it doesn't even occur to him what it means to you? Kitty, I don't want to see you hurt. I'm not going to tell him how you feel about him, I swear."
It gave Kitty a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. She begged and pleaded with her friend to delay. "Give it another day," she said. "He might stop on his own when he sees me in the office again. Just wait one more day."
Ellie was reluctant to agree, but eventually she did before going to hand over her dress to Henry in the kitchen. Kitty had been yawning not half-an-hour ago, barely able to keep her eyes open, but now she was wide awake, and tossed and turned for a long time before she could finally fall asleep.
Kitty's morning went like clockwork. Unlike Sunday, Kitty didn't leave her room until she was dressed for the day with her hair pulled back in a professional twist. Mr. Henry was equally prepared. She was nervous about seeing him, fearing Ellie might have said something to him the night before despite her promises, but he gave no hint that anything had happened and Kitty was determined to follow his lead. If he had said anything about it, she would have denounced everything or apologized profusely, or said whatever she thought he needed to hear.
There was no change at all to his behavior, except perhaps that he was as formal at breakfast as he was normally in the office. It was a change from the day before, but she couldn't find fault with it. In fact, she was a little relieved by it. His informality was a slippery slope, and she could see how it could lead to her downfall.
Mrs. Harman had bacon and eggs waiting by the pool for breakfast. Kitty and Mr. Henry had their coffee while passing sections of the paper back and forth, read aloud when a particular passage caught their fancy, and discussed marmalade or jam over toast.
As they were finishing their meal, he turned his full attention to her. "So what would you like to do tonight?" he asked as he set aside the paper.
"I'm sure I'll like whatever you and Ellie have planned," she answered, trying to be amenable.
"But it is your turn to set the agenda," he said. "Ellie picked out where we went yesterday; I chose the restaurant last night; tonight is your turn. Where do you want to go?"
Kitty thought about it. "Well, Ellie wants to--"
"Never mind what Princess Eleanor wants," he told her firmly. "What does Kitty Morland want to do? Name it, and we'll do it."
"Anything?" she asked him.
He smiled and clarified. "Anything within reason. I won't go robbing banks no matter how your heart is set on it."
It sounded like a simple question, but as she formed various answers in her mind, she realized that they weren't hers. Mavis had filled her brain with so many ideas, that anything she wanted to suggest began with "Mavis recommended..." or "Mavis told me..."
How frustrating and pathetic! She didn't have an original idea in her head.
Henry watched her struggle and found himself laughing lightly at her difficulty. "Surely there is something special you have your heart set on?" He began to list famous landmarks and popular tourist attractions.
When he mentioned the Chinese Theatre, Kitty felt a jolt of excitement and nearly grabbed his hand across the table.
"Oh, that's it!" she cried. "Could we go to the movies? Could we go tomorrow night?"
"What's wrong with tonight?" he questioned.
"Tuesday night is my movie night back in New York," she explained. Mavis might die from envy when she found out, but Kitty was willing to risk it.
"If that's what you really want..." It was, and she smiled widely at him. "Do you even know what you want to see?"
Kitty leaned back in her chair. "Honestly, I'll watch whatever is playing."
"That leaves tonight wide open," he pointed out, "but I suppose Ellie has plenty of ideas. I'll write her a quick note and we can go."
During the drive to the Woodston offices, he prepared her for the people they were to meet, and shepherded her and her box of files through the front door and up the elevator.
The introductions by themselves were not much. Kitty had realized ahead of time that she was incidental to the meetings. Her role was to sit in the corner and quietly record everything she heard. While Mr. Henry introduced her as Miss Morland, Mr. Dunwoody and Mr. Reid barely noticed her. The reality that Mr. Henry's last secretary was abysmal made it seem smart to bring one from New York. That Mr. Dunwoody's personal secretary had landed a small role as an extra and was out until Thursday made it necessary. But neither fact made Kitty interesting to the executives of Woodston Women's Clothing.
The first real meeting of the day lasted until just after noon. At that time, the three men went out for lunch. Mr. Henry -- Mr. Tilney now -- had asked if she would be all right alone as this would probably take a while. She had nodded and smiled without really thinking it through, but a kind doorman had been able to direct her to a sandwich shop where she could afford a cup of soup. Really, after such a filling breakfast, she wasn't very hungry.
The interval gave her time to rest her wrist which had begun to tire, but as the clock crept closer to two, she wondered when the men would be back and what she should do in the meantime. In the end, she sat down at Miss Corwyn's typewriter and began to transcribe her shorthand and to answer the telephone when it rang.
She was just finishing a call with the manager of the South Hollywood store when the trio returned for business.
"What is she doing?" Mr. Reid asked.
Kitty apologized for overstepping her bounds, "but your secretary is out and the telephone was ringing." She then handed over the small stack of messages.
"All this happened while we were away?" asked Mr. Dunwoody in amazement as he counted out the slips of paper.
"Some of the messages are duplicates," Kitty explained. "When they couldn't reach you the first time, they called back once or twice. I don't think they trusted me to get the message to you."
The two men from Woodston began to read through the slips of paper. "I had better call Oscar and find out what is going on," muttered Dunwoody, and he disappeared into his office.
Meanwhile, Henry had picked up the stack of typed notes from the morning. "You've been busy," he noted to Kitty. "At least one of us is earning our keep."
This statement attracted Mr. Reid's attention and he too began to read the typed pages. "Good heavens, you're a real secretary!" He was slightly in awe. "I say, Miss Morland, I have a meeting in --" he checked his watch -- "ten minutes! Miss Corwyn is out today. Would you mind sitting in? It will only take a half-hour, and I would greatly appreciate it."
"If Mr. Tilney doesn't mind..." Kitty said.
Mr. Tilney looked like he very much minded. "Very well, then," he said, trying to be a good sport.
Reid was suitably grateful to Henry, and Kitty was soon whisked back into the conference room. A few other men filed in soon after. The meeting was a review of the past weekend's sales and of the future week's events. New merchandise was ready to be distributed to the stores the next day.
The half-hour that Reid had first suggested quickly became a full hour. Kitty didn't know if this was because the announcements took longer than expected or if Reid had misjudged his original estimate.
At the end of it, she handed her notes to Mr. Reid and he gaped at them. "How am I supposed to read that?" he inquired. "It looks like gibberish."
"It's shorthand," Kitty explained. "I'm sure Miss Corwyn can read it perfectly well."
Reid huffed his doubt just the same. What good was a real secretary if she didn't stay long enough to be of use? He tried then to get her to type out her notes from this meeting as she had from the morning, but Henry intervened.
"I'm afraid we have plans with my sister and cannot stay long," he explained then checked his watch. "We're actually running late."
That was all Kitty needed to spur her to action. She tidied her area and left her apologies. She was on the verge of promising to type the notes up the next morning when he again interrupted her.
"Really, Miss Morland, we must be going. We'll be back again tomorrow at the same time. We can sort it out then."
Without anything more, she and Mr. Henry left.
"Have you talked with Ellie?" she asked as they reached the car. "Do you know what we're doing?"
He grinned like an errant school boy. "I'm sure she has everything under control. I just didn't want Reid to keep you there all night, which he would have done by the way. The last thing I need is for them to think that I brought you along to sweeten the deal."
The thought had never occurred to Kitty, and she was suitably horrified. "Can they do that?" she wanted to know. "Can you do that?"
"Not really," he almost assured her. "They might ask but I would have to refuse in the gentlest way. You see, I have recently lost one very good secretary -- never mind that the old man says differently -- and I have no intention of losing the next one."
Kitty was sure there was a compliment in there somewhere, and blushed modestly. So much for the formality of the morning!
They drove home and Henry parked the car. Ellie came out of the house to greet them and hustle them along.
"You've got to hurry," she warned them. "I've made reservations for seven o'clock and I don't want to be late!"
Kitty wanted to ask what Ellie had planned but Henry spoke first. "Thank heaven the house is still standing," he remarked. "I was worried, what with Howard's story of vanished jewels, that you'd have ruined all of Mrs. Harman's good work in looking for them."
It was the sort of comment that brothers make, so Ellie paid him back in a similar coin. "Of course not!" she scoffed. "The bracelet was last seen in the master bedroom, so I restricted my search to that room." She smiled sweetly. "I apologize for the mess."
Henry glared at her then stalked off to survey the damage. Ellie clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.
"Come along, Kitty," she said at last. "We've got to get ready." She took her friend by the hand, but Kitty stopped her.
"The first thing I need is a bath," she said almost firmly. "I'll come by your room after that."
She was halfway there when she heard Mr. Henry bellow for his sister.
Fresh and pink from her bath, bundled in Mavis' robe and carrying her makeup kit, Kitty knocked on Ellie's door.
Her friend answered quickly and pulled her inside. On the bed were two more evening gowns just as lovely as those from the night before.
Ellie noticed Kitty's attention. "You'll wear the gold one tonight," she said. "Henry said I'm not allowed to wear it. I'll be in the cream one."
Kitty's head swiveled in worry. "But if you can't wear it, why should I?" It didn't look as daring draped across the bed as Ellie's red number from the night before, but Kitty couldn't be sure.
Ellie rolled her eyes. "He was mad at me for messing up his bathroom, so he's punishing me by making me wear a different gown. He doesn't realize I wanted to wear the cream one to begin with." She laughed into her hand at being so clever.
Kitty looked askance at her friend. This was no time to compare notes on how to manipulate older brothers, however, and the girls got to the work of transforming themselves for another night on the town.
Ellie asked if Henry had behaved himself. Kitty was able to answer that he had behaved with perfect disinterest in the morning and that had been enough to satisfy his sister.
As the two made their preparations, Ellie revealed her plans. She had made reservations at someplace new -- Kitty was visibly relieved that they wouldn't see Morris Fielding again -- that was frequented by many stars, or so she had heard. After dinner, they were to go to a popular club and dance the night away. It was all very thrilling, and Ellie was determined to look her best.
They emerged from the bedroom together at quarter after six, and found Henry waiting in the living room. He looked at them, sighed and shook his head. "You look very lovely," he admitted.
"Is something wrong, Mr. Henry?" asked Kitty. It did not sound like he meant his compliment, and she would rather have the opportunity to correct her flaws now than to discover them in public when there was no chance for amendment.
"There is nothing wrong," he said. "I just worry that I will be unable to fend off all of your admirers tonight."
Kitty blushed and looked down at her shoes but Ellie cleared her throat. "I'm sure you don't need to worry about that."
"Don't get ahead of yourself," Henry warned. "I'm tempted to call Howard for backup, just in case."
Kitty didn't mind the idea. "Mr. Ashley is a nice man."
"Nice?" Henry repeated, pulling a face. "Such a condemnation of faint praise. Whenever I hear someone described as nice, I always imagine that they left such a weak impression, that no one cares to meet with them again."
Kitty couldn't help but be hurt by this dismissal. "But I do like him, very much. He was kind and friendly to me, even though I'm not from Texas. I wouldn't mind it in the least if he joined us tonight."
Henry continued to frown as Miss Morland defended his friend and Kitty couldn't understand it. Did he want her to like Mr. Ashley or not?
Ellie, however, had no intention of letting Henry or any friend of his stand in the way of her evening. She had made reservations for three people, and had barely been able to secure a table. There was no room for a fourth. In the end, Henry did not call Howard Ashley or anyone else. He merely herded the girls into the car and drove them to the restaurant that Ellie had picked out.
Dinner fit into the category of cocktail and a steak. Kitty wasn't sure she deserved it; after all, she hadn't worked a full day, but that was Mr. Henry's fault when she thought about it. In the end, she was able to enjoy her meal without real pangs of conscience. Despite keeping their eyes peeled for movie stars, and making frequent trips to the ladies' room so they could meander through the dining room and gawk at as many people as possible, they didn't spot anyone that they recognized. Dinner was not a flop, but it was a disappointment.
Afterward, Ellie directed them to a nearby club for dancing. They took a small table and ordered drinks. The place was crowded, and Ellie kept her eyes wide as she glanced around the room, hoping to spy someone famous or, barring that, to catch the attention of someone who would ask her to dance. She didn't have to wait long, and went off with a wink.
"Well, she seems to have completely forgotten about that singer from The Arrow Club," her brother remarked happily.
Kitty nodded in agreement. Ellie had been in a blissful mood all evening, but hadn't made a peep about lunch with Morris Fielding unless she was questioned directly. Even then, her answers had to be dragged from her. Kitty could only be glad of it. Mr. Fielding had struck her as a bit of a fortune hunter.
She was glad her friend was smart enough to see through such an actor. Kitty, with her working class roots, was too poor to find herself in any danger, but Ellie with an heiress' trust fund was just the sort of girl who could attract the wrong kind of admirer.
Kitty watched her friend twirl in a stranger's arms and felt a pang of envy at everything Eleanor Tilney had to offer a man.
"Is anything wrong?" Henry asked, catching her sigh.
"Oh, nothing," Kitty said, not wanting to seem jealous. Then she recalled the look he had given her earlier, when he had first seen her in this dress. "Does it bother you? Having me go out with you and Ellie? It must seem tiresome never to be rid of me."
He did not answer directly. "Do you hear that, Miss Morland? They're playing our song."
"Mr. Henry," she tried to be firm, "we don't have a song."
"Would you like one? Perhaps you have a particular song in mind?" he asked.
"That's not what I meant," she said, a touch exasperated that he was missing her point completely. "I am your secretary. I work for you. I owe you money."
"Forgive me for saying this, but $20 is no great sum," he said, realizing that to her it was a great deal indeed. "And if things go well with Woodston this week, I am more than willing to write off any remaining balance."
"I owe you $30," she correct him.
"Thirty!" He couldn't believe it. "No, that is impossible. Do you think I'm charging you interest?"
"Not like that," she said. "You gave me $40 for the initial loan, then you gave me another ten to pay back the interest to Mr. Thorpe. I've already given you twenty, but that still leaves thirty remaining."
"I gave that money to Ellie," amended Henry, "not you. If anyone is going to pay it back, it will be my sister, and I've been her brother long enough to know that it won't happen. No, you owe me $20, and not a penny more."
She could have argued with him more, but he looked so resolute that she knew it was futile. She changed the topic to the meeting of the morning. He rolled his eyes but kept to the subject, and so they continued, talking of safe things, until Ellie returned with a young man in tow.
Introductions were quickly made, then Mr. Randalls asked Kitty to dance. She looked at her friends for guidance. Ellie gave her a smile and a shrug that was meant to be encouraging; Mr. Henry didn't even blink. With no obvious opposition, Kitty thanked Mr. Randalls for his offer and went with him to the dance floor.
Robert -- that was Mr. Randalls' first name -- was not a very good dancer. Or the floor was too crowded to do him justice. Or perhaps Kitty was just spoiled. For whatever the reason, Kitty didn't have a great time and she was grateful, at the end of the song, that he introduced her to a friend who swept her off to another spot on the dance floor.
So it continued, song after song. Once she started dancing, she never seemed to stop. There was always someone else asking her to dance. She introduced herself as merely "Kitty" so no one would mistake her for the other Miss Morland, but there was no lack of partners. In fact, it felt like quite the opposite. The dance floor grew more crowded as the hour grew late, and Robert Randalls, whom she had initially dismissed as a poor dancer, began to take on more grace in her memory as successive partners jostled her about, stepped on her feet, and clumsily spun her into other couples as the available space diminished.
She tried to keep her eye on Ellie, but that proved impossible, so she settled for having a general idea of where to find Ellie on the dance floor, and to glance that way a few times throughout a song in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the cream dress. For the most part, it worked. Of Mr. Henry, she saw nothing.
Finally, one partner, who had introduced himself as "Gregory, like Gregory Peck," held her too tightly and got a little too handsy. She tried to push away, but there was another couple at her back. They struggled for a bit as Kitty tried to break away and she wondered how it was possible, in a crowd of people, for this to happen to her. Then she remembered to slam her heel on his instep and hurried away.
She had lost sight of Ellie three partners ago, and she no longer felt safe on the dance floor, so she headed for the table by the most direct route. Henry was there, alone, and he never looked so wonderful to Kitty's eyes.
There was something in her face that set off an alarm, and he was out of his seat as soon as he saw it. "Is anything wrong?" he asked as soon as he could meet her.
His concern made her feel foolish. Nothing would have happened with Gregory; the man was probably drunk and while he could certainly embarrass her, he couldn't truly harm her. "No," she said, trying to find words to set them both at ease. "I just... I was tired and wanted to sit down for a bit."
"You do look a bit worn out," he said, unconvinced, but guided her back to the table anyway.
There they sat through the remainder of the song. Kitty saw a flash of cream on the dance floor and felt an unexpected surge of relief that Ellie was still having a good time. It was a sign of normalcy, that the momentary panic Kitty had felt was misplaced, the natural if unfortunate result of too many movies and not enough sense.
The din at the tables was even worse than on the dance floor. At least among the dancing couples, there was music and very few people devoted many words to conversation. But at the tables, everyone seemed to be shouting to be heard. It was deafening. Kitty wondered how many people were here, and what they all found to talk about. Eventually she noticed that Mr. Henry was tapping on her elbow, trying to tell her something. She had to lean in to hear him, and even then, he nearly shouted in her ear.
"If you're feeling better now, perhaps you've saved me a dance?"
Of course she had.
Posted on 2014-06-30
They didn't even try to talk as they danced, and Kitty attempted to sort out her thoughts. There was no longer any space for spins and turns. The crowd pressed around them so naturally they took up less space. With each bump from another nearby couple, Mr. Henry pulled her closer until she was resting her cheek on his shoulder. It was, hands down, a completely different experience from dancing with Gregory who had clutched at her and held her tightly against him. Kitty knew that, had the crowd allowed it, Mr. Henry would not have danced so close to her and, if she wanted, she could have broken away from him without a struggle. But just as she knew she could get away, she knew she didn't want to.
There were times it was hard to remember the distance between them. Now was one of those times; California was full of them. It was true that she always thought of him as Mr. Henry whether they were working or off the clock, but her view of him was expanding as she saw more of him, and growing more complicated. He was handsome -- she had accidentally called him dashing once to his face; he had laughed it off but the idea had stuck with her -- and smart, and funny, and witty, and charming, and a good dancer, and a shrewd businessman, and a thoughtful brother, and a kind friend, and... and it was only Monday! How was she to last the week with her heart intact?
She would have stayed close to Mr. Henry all night, or at least until Ellie caught sight of them, had some man not sent his partner careening into Kitty. The girl's right foot ground into Kitty's own foot, and she followed up by stepping on the hem of Kitty's dress with her left foot. Kitty fell hard against Mr. Henry before the other girl could stand up and laugh off the situation.
Had it only been someone bumping into her, Kitty would have been pleased to shrug it off and keep dancing, but it was not so gentle as that and she couldn't stand straight at first.
"Are you all right?" Henry yelled over the noise.
"Oh, the dress," Kitty fretted. "Is Ellie's dress all right?"
"Never mind the dress, it's you I'm asking about," he told her and guided her back to their table. "You're limping," he pointed out needlessly.
"I'll be fine in a moment," she batted aside his concern. "Someone didn't watch where she was going, that's all."
"Are you sure?"
She looked at him. He appeared genuinely concerned about her. That was something else she'd have to add to his list of attractions. Or, for her own sake, she should quit keeping a list.
"I'll be fine," she said again. "This isn't the first time I've had a mishap on the dance floor. But perhaps we should sit out the rest of this song?"
By now they had reached the table, only to find it occupied by another group of people. How long had they been dancing? And where was Ellie?
"Let me find you a seat, and then I'll go look for my sister," Henry suggested.
"No, let me help," Kitty offered. "You'll never find her alone in this crowd. Besides, it will take twice as long to find me a chair too."
Her limp was improving with every step so he agreed with only slight reluctance. They stayed together; there was no point in searching for Ellie if they were going to lose each other in the bargain. They looked in opposite directions as they moved through the dining area and across the dance floor. She could feel his hand on her arm or her waist, still leading her in time to the music.
Kitty had not expected to meet with immediate success, but as they continued to search, she felt a growing sense of unease as Ellie did not turn up.
Henry leaned into her ear. "Let's try by the bar," he shouted. She nodded and complied.
Like everywhere else in the club, the bar was crowded. People hung around it four or five bodies deep, and the air was thick with cigarette smoke. It seemed hopeless.
Kitty was about to suggest they ask the maitre d' or visit the coat check to see if Ellie was still here, when a few bodies moved just right and Kitty had a perfect view of her friend sitting at the bar. The next moment, she was gone again, hidden behind a wall of strangers.
"There!" cried Kitty, pointing at the brief glimpse she had seen.
Henry pulled her after him. As they neared the center of the mass, Kitty was jostled from all sides. Someone else stepped on her foot but she had no time to cry out, or if she did, the buzz of conversation was too loud for her to be heard. She kept her whole being focused on the spot where she had seen Ellie. If they should lose her now, who knew when they'd find her again?
At last they reached the bar top and were rewarded with another view of Ellie. She was drinking, smoking, and laughing with someone who was not facing them. Ellie saw them and waved them over. She opened her mouth but her words drowned in the general hubbub. Henry shifted his grip on Kitty and threaded them through the last obstacles to his sister.
"There you are!" Ellie shouted at them when they were close enough to hear. She smiled widely and patted a man's arm. "Guess who I found!"
Kitty turned to look, and gasped. "Mr. Fielding!"
Indeed, it was none other than Morris Fielding, sitting at the bar like he belonged there. He looked just as handsome as the night before. Morris Fielding greeted Henry and Kitty like they were old friends. He kissed Kitty's cheek and shouted, "Wisconsin!" which was the only way she could hear him, and she gaped silently in return. With Henry, he offered a hearty handshake, containing enough goodwill to ignore any coolness he received in reply. He tried to speak above the crowd but the din only seemed to be getting louder as the night crept on. It was quite clear to Kitty that no conversation was possible in the club, but Mr. Fielding kept moving his mouth, smiling and winking at Ellie, and Ellie kept laughing and basking in his attention as if everything was perfectly ordinary.
Mr. Henry leaned into the cheery duo and shouted, "I think it's time for us to go."
Ellie nodded and bent over Mr. Fielding's ear. He nodded in reply to whatever she told him and paid the bar tab while she finished her drink and stubbed out her cigarette. She waited for him to help her to her feet as if he was going to accompany them further. Henry looked displeased with the situation but there was little he could do about it right then. When the press of bodies was less suffocating and the noise of others less deafening, he could tell the man to shove off.
As they moved to the front of the club, the crowd gradually thinned. It was still a packed house, but Kitty had less to fear for her toes and gown as they neared the door.
Outside, the air was shockingly cool compared with the heat generated by so many people in the confined space of the club, and the girls' evening gowns were not sewn for warmth. Ellie immediately remarked on coldness, and Mr. Fielding was quick to remove his jacket for her to wear. He made a gallant show of it and Ellie practically cooed with relief.
"Thank you for your service, Mr. Fielding," Henry now said, determined to erect a wall between the pair. "Ellie, let the man have his coat and he can go back inside."
"Oh, but he's not going back," Ellie protested. "I offered him a ride home with us."
"Forgive me, Mr. Tilney," Mr. Fielding said. "I hope it isn't too much trouble."
As far as Henry knew, the man could have lived right next door and it would still be too much trouble.
"Henry, don't look at me like that," said Ellie. "I've already offered him a ride. The least you can do is help him out."
Henry Tilney nearly told his sister exactly how little he could do for Mr. Fielding, but the other man had noticed Kitty's teeth chattering. "Miss Morland, you're shivering," he said. There was nothing more he could do than draw attention to it since he had already come to Ellie's aid.
"Kitty..." Mr. Henry trailed off as he draped his coat on her shoulders with much less spectacle than Mr. Fielding had shown. It was heavenly warm and Kitty wanted to sink into it. She now understood the instinct that had led Ellie to react with such delight.
"Better?" Henry asked her, and she nodded like an idiot. Better to stay silent and look like an idiot than to open her mouth and remove all doubt.
The anger Henry had built up against Mr. Fielding had been diverted and scattered unwittingly by Kitty. The valet pulled up with the car and Henry looked as if he was searching for enough ill will to send Mr. Fielding on his way. Ellie read his expression and tried to offer a compromise. "If my brother can't take you the entire way, perhaps we can drop you off somewhere closer. It will save you cab fare if nothing else."
"That's very kind of you, Miss Tilney. I don't want to be any trouble."
Henry glared at his sister. She was going to keep offering Mr. Fielding a ride home until he was in the car. "Where do you live, Mr. Fielding?" he asked, barely hospitable.
Morris took the question for a victory, but kept his countenance humble. "Just five miles north of here. It's not very long by car, but I'd hate to walk that far at this hour."
"Very well, then." Clearly, that was Mr. Henry's phrase when he found himself agreeing to something unpleasant.
Morris Fielding lost no time in helping Ellie into the back passenger seat before walking around to take the seat behind the driver. Henry watched stonily but said nothing. Whatever lecture he was preparing for Princess Eleanor -- and of that Kitty had no doubt -- it was going to wait until they were alone. She wanted to say something to comfort him, but came up empty. He was still self-possessed enough to hand her into the front seat.
In the car, she could hear Mr. Fielding speak with Ellie. "Your fingers are cold as ice. Here, let me warm them. People forget that it can get cold in Southern California. I want to show you an old trick from my grandmother of blowing on the hands to warm them." He proceeded to do as he described and Ellie tittered nervously. Kitty kept her gaze forward and clutched her own hands together. How much was blowing hot air and how much was kissing would have to remain a mystery.
Kitty then realized that Mr. Henry was about to open his own door, and determined to move the conversation to neutral ground.
"So how long have you worked at The Arrow Club?" she asked too loudly and too fast.
Mr. Fielding stopped his ministrations. "Almost two years," he answered. "I became the headliner six months ago."
He would have said more but Mr. Henry, now in the car, spoke first. "Where can we drop you off?"
Kitty supposed it was more polite than asking bluntly how they could get rid of him, but the tone was not far off.
Mr. Fielding called out the directions and all other conversation ended. In not much time, they arrived at a row of apartments and Henry pulled the car to the curb.
"Here we are," he announced. "Good night, Mr. Fielding."
Ellie gave him a much longer and more heartfelt goodbye, reiterating how pleased she was to see him again and voicing the fond hope that she would see him again soon.
It was all very touching until Henry started drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.
Mr. Fielding took that as the last call for civility and bade her goodbye one more time. He also wished Kitty a good night, again calling her "Wisconsin," and Kitty turned her head when she returned his wishes.
"Ellie, don't forget Mr. Fielding's jacket," she added as she noticed it, giving the pair in the backseat another excuse to extend their parting.
Nobody said much of anything for most of the ride home. Finally rid of the man, Henry said not a word about it, which struck Kitty as very wise. Ellie was consumed by her reveries, and Kitty wished to break the silence, but could not think of anything to say other than to remark on how crowded it was and how impossible it must have been to come across Mr. Fielding amid all those other people.
As Henry at last turned down their street, she was struck with inspiration. "Oh, Ellie, something awful happened," she began. "People stepped on the hem of your gown, two or three times!"
Henry was all ears. "I thought it only happened once."
"Once on the dance floor," Kitty agreed. "And a few more times near the bar. I've never been in a place so crowded; I don't think it was safe."
She expected Ellie to show some concern for the dress, but heard only a vague murmur of distraction. The gown was beautiful and Kitty couldn't even begin to price it. To imagine something of her own that was half so precious and only a tenth as valuable had been damaged would have brought Kitty to tears, but it barely registered with Ellie.
"I told you not to worry about the dress," Henry reminded her but what did men know about dresses? Kitty's father, for instance, could never guess the price of a dress if his life depended on it yet still managed always to prefer the less expensive one.
The girls moved to retire; Kitty was growing more accustomed to the hours of California, but she still had to get up early for work the next day.
Henry detained his sister for a private word, and Kitty went back to her room to examine her gown and await her friend.
The damage was easy to spot: two large tears along the seams and one small rip at the hem. She would have to borrow Mrs. Harman's sewing kit in the morning, but there was nothing more she could do about it tonight.
Having completed the examination of Ellie's gown, she took off Mavis' shoes, now horribly scuffed. She would have to borrow some shoe polish tomorrow, too. While dancing was a treat, tonight had been more trouble than it was worth. Between the wear and tear on her borrowed attire, the injuries to her own person, and the complication of meeting Mr. Fielding again, she would much rather have stayed in.
Ellie finally came sulking into the room, the abuse of her brother about to spill forth.
"You don't think there was anything wrong with how I behaved to Morris, do you?" The question was very nearly rhetorical. "And there was certainly nothing wrong with how he treated me!" Had there been any doubt of what Mr. Henry had discussed with his sister, that mystery was solved.
"I don't see why he should complain who I spend my time with when he leaves me alone here," Ellie groused. "I didn't come this far to sit in my room."
Kitty immediately felt guilty for spending all day with one Tilney and not the other.
"I'm sorry," she said for her part in the neglect. "Maybe you can come into the office with me tomorrow morning, or we could meet for lunch somewhere."
The girls were in their pajamas now, but the disbelieving look Ellie shot her friend was just as regal as if she was dressed in silk and ermine rather than flannel.
"You can't expect me to get up that early!"
"It's not that hard, really" Kitty stated. "I do it."
It was impossible to refute that fact, and unacceptable to call attention to the difference in their circumstances. "I have plans already," she said instead. "I'm having lunch with Morris again."
"Again?" Kitty repeated, shocked.
"And why not?" Ellie shot back. "You'll be out all day with Henry. Am I supposed to eat with the housekeeper? Am I supposed to take her with me when I go sight-seeing? It's absolutely ridiculous! And even more ridiculous is that I should go about without some escort. You don't want anything to happen to me, do you?"
Of course Kitty did not, but it didn't necessarily follow that Kitty wanted Ellie to spend her time with Mr. Fielding.
"He is a complete gentleman," Ellie averred. "And it's totally unfair that I should be cooped up here while you're having fun at work."
"Well, if you think it's fun--"
"That's not what I meant!" Ellie snapped. The force of her exclamation startled both girls, and Ellie then apologised to her friend. "I'm sorry, Kitty. Henry just made me so mad. I shouldn't have taken it out on you."
"That's okay," Kitty said, anxious to make peace. "I'm sure your brother is just looking out for you."
Ellie gave a shrug which said she doubted it. "He doesn't realize I'm not a child anymore. I can make friends outside of school... with boys even. I can go places and do things without having my family approve of it beforehand."
Kitty could see that Ellie was still worked up about Henry, so decided to change the subject. "And how was lunch with Mr. Fielding?"
The effect on Ellie's face was immediate. "Oh, it was wonderful!" she enthused, and proceeded to describe her day. It certainly sounded more fun than going to work. "And it was his idea to meet later at the club," she added after telling how Morris had helped her make the reservations for dinner. "He didn't know if he could make it since he had to work tonight, but he must have snuck out early just to see me."
This admission, and the evident glee in Ellie's voice as she said it, made Kitty uncomfortable. She couldn't shake the feeling that Mr. Fielding was not genuine. "Did you talk about money at all today?"
Ellie looked at her quizzically. "What an odd thing to say!"
Kitty took a deep breath. "It's just, back in Madison, a lot of boys thought I might be the other Miss Morland -- the one with all the money -- and so they were really friendly to me at first. But when they discovered who I really was, they wanted nothing to do with me. Last night, when Mr. Fielding kept asking me where I'm from, it made me think that he was hoping I'd be the other Miss Morland, that I'd be rich and he could just make me fall in love with him or something." There was more she wanted to say, but Ellie interrupted her.
"He thought you were pretty, that's all. He was trying to get you to talk with him. And then Henry came over and ruined it. Morris explained it all to me at lunch today." Ellie smiled. "He said that you were very pretty, and I agree with him, but between your indifference and Henry's meddling, he realized that there's no spark."
"Do you feel a spark? With Mr. Fielding?" It was an impossible question, and Kitty felt herself blushing just to ask it.
Ellie didn't answer right away. "I like Morris. I'd like to find out more about him. We're only in town until Saturday, so why don't I try? Who knows what might happen?"
The lack of denial was worrying, but the lack of confirmation left Kitty with little to act upon. "I don't want to see you get hurt, like I was in Madison, or worse," she said at last. "Promise me you won't do anything rash."
Ellie rewarded her friend's sincere concern with a hug. "Thank you, Kitty. I promise. You're sweet. And you're much better at this than Henry. Why did I have to have only brothers? Why couldn't I have a sister like you?"
Kitty thought briefly of her three sisters at home and all the fights they had had. She laughed. "Sisters can be awful too sometimes. Worse than brothers when the situation calls for it."
"Not you," said Ellie. "You're perfect."
Kitty disagreed. She was not perfect, she was merely tired.
Posted on 2014-07-03
Morning rituals were executed with speed and ease. Breakfast, the paper, and Mr. Henry were waiting for her by the pool. Kitty asked for a sewing kit and some shoe polish to repair the damage from last night, and the housekeeper countered with an offer to do the mending if Kitty would leave the items on her bed. It was, in a word, ideal.
Whether it was having a housekeeper or simply being in the California sunshine, Kitty could get used to this.
She handed over Mr. Henry's dinner jacket and he chuckled. "I wondered where that had got to."
With a pang, Kitty realized that she could get used to that too, if she didn't keep her head on straight.
Henry read something in her expression and looked away. He cleared his throat and offered a vague and subdued apology without meeting her eyes. He included no details of what he was sorry about but his sin might have been excessive cheerfulness based on how he atoned for it. He returned to his paper in silence and remained hidden behind the broadsheet until it was time to get ready for the drive into the office. It was such a change from the previous mornings that of course Kitty tried to reason it out on her own but without much success.
Then she remembered that he was occasionally prone to introspection. The first day she had been reassigned to him, he had told her the story of his mother's death. Henry had been quiet and moody the rest of the morning but had snapped out of it at lunch. Kitty had no idea what had set him off this time but it would be rude to pry so she let him be.
Tuesday passed much like Monday, although Mr. Reid was attentive to Kitty and even Mr. Dunwoody noticed her more. Mr. Henry received a call from Northanger Federated to check on him, but it was early in the week and he had nothing much to report.
The men disappeared at lunch and Kitty had another bowl of soup at the diner. Mr. Henry had unfortunately kept his resolution of not asking Kitty about his sister -- or speaking to Kitty much at all today -- although she wished he would slip just once so she could get her worries off her chest. Still, she thought of Ellie and hoped everything would work out for her. She wasn't completely convinced that Ellie's heart was safe from Mr. Fielding, but fairly certain Miss Tilney had need to be on guard.
She did not volunteer her services to Woodston past three o'clock, and she was able to leave with Mr. Henry at four to purchase tickets for the night's movie. The only rain cloud on her horizon was the quiet and detached manner with which Mr. Henry treated her. It was not cruel, unkind or teasing, and she would be jumping for joy if Mr. Thorpe had ever paid her half as much respect, but he called her Miss Morland all the time and never met her eye. She feared that Ellie had tipped him off about her infatuation last night when they were arguing over Morris Fielding but he didn't say anything about it, and Kitty was too afraid to bring up the subject herself.
Ellie was at home when they returned. When asked about her day, she kept mum on the topic of her lunch date. Henry, whether trying to keep the peace or still mired in his quiet mood, did not inquire further. As they did not need to dress for the movies as they had done the past two nights, they left again soon afterward with Kitty looking much the same as when she had left the house in the morning for work.
Dinner was far more modest but still on par with what Kitty would consider a night out. Ellie did most of the talking, recounting the sights she had seen that day without breathing a word of her companion.
The theater itself was absolutely amazing and dispelled any downcast thoughts. From the pavement outside to the chandeliers hanging in the lobby, Kitty couldn't help acting like a tourist, grabbing Ellie's hand to point out some detail that might otherwise have escaped notice. She even tugged on Mr. Henry's sleeve once or twice despite his coolness. Whether he smiled with her or at her, she didn't care.
The film was indeed one she had already seen in New York, but she sat enraptured through it anyway. Afterward, she reviewed the story with a rushed excitement, discussing clues that made the final scene obvious if only one knew to value them, and details that became more apparent on successive viewings. As they were leaving, she pulled the Tilneys into a small shop that sold postcards and bought some for Mavis Allen, her parents, and herself.
In many respects the night was mundane, but to Kitty it was a magical evening. She floated back to Mr. Henry's home on a giddy cloud. She sat up talking with the Tilneys for half an hour with a lazy grin on her face before turning in. Ellie had already decided they were going out again on Wednesday and Mr. Henry had already decided to invite Howard Ashley to join them. Kitty had nothing to decide but to be merry and to go to bed.
Ellie dressed in green on Wednesday night. Howard Ashley was much better behaved, less in awe of Miss Tilney the second time around. To gain her attention was an uphill battle, however, as her first impression of him had been unfavorable.
Kitty observed all, and wished him well, but thought it would come to naught. As long as his heart was not truly engaged, that would be for the best.
Mr. Henry's continued treatment of Kitty was much harder to fathom, and she would rather not think about it but she couldn't help herself. It wasn't that he was cold toward her, but he had yet to set aside the detachment from Tuesday morning, excepting minor slipups. As those lapses were followed by periods of even greater formality, he was even still calling her, "Miss Morland" now that they had left the Woodston offices behind. Mr. Ashley did too, but coming from a relative stranger it sounded proper. When Mr. Henry said it, it sounded stuffy.
Kitty didn't quite know what to make of it, other than it was possible to get what she wanted only to find out she didn't want it after all. At least, not exactly that. It was childish of her, perhaps even churlish, to bemoan her present situation so she fought the urge to do so. And through it all, Mr. Henry was as professional as she had previously hoped her boss would be.
Mr. Ashley was no better a dancer tonight than the first night, which was unfortunate because Kitty found him otherwise very pleasant and enjoyable company, especially contrasted with Mr. Henry's recent behavior. He lacked a certain spark that Mr. Henry had and she couldn't ignore it on the dance floor. Still, she tried to be a good partner and discreetly fed him suggestions of what he might say to Ellie to win and keep her interest.
Mr. Henry, for his part, remained disinterested and had to be chided into dancing with her.
"Come on, Henry," said Mr. Ashley. "You're dying to get out there, I can tell from the way you're drumming your fingers on the table. I'm sure Miss Morland won't mind."
But Mr. Henry did not readily submit. "We're no longer in the office. Miss Morland does not have to follow my lead now."
"Oh, but Mr. Ashley is right: I don't mind, Mr. Tilney." As long as he was calling her Miss Morland, she supposed she had to call him Mr. Tilney no matter how awkward it made her feel. "We can dance if you care to."
He looked like he wanted to argue, like it was on the tip of his tongue to decline, but with a, "very well, then," he extended his hand.
As he walked her the short distance to the dance floor, she wondered if this was a mistake, that dancing with him while he was in this mood was bound to end badly. If he'd much rather not dance with her, he shouldn't be coerced into it.
"If you'd rather sit down, Mr. Tilney," she offered, "I understand."
"No, I do not. And for as long as we are out here, can you at least call me Mr. Henry?"
She smiled at the first easing of formality between them that she had felt all day. "Of course," she agreed readily. "I only kept calling you Mr. Tilney because you continued to call me Miss Morland."
He was all astonishment, and it took him a moment to work out an intelligent response. "Are you sure? But I thought..." His words and steps slowed to a stand still. He looked at her, really scrutinized her, and she didn't know what to do with herself. Should she stare back at him, or turn away?
"Never mind what I thought," he said after finishing his inspection. "I only called you Miss Morland because you kept calling me Mr. Tilney. I can't believe this has been going on for two days. Don't we make the pair!"
They shared a laugh at their combined folly. Kitty was relieved. Was it really just a simple misunderstanding?
"All this time, I thought you were upset over something, or had finally grown tired of me," she admitted. "You might not be able to leave me home when you go out with Ellie, but you still might want to. Maybe the movies last night wasn't your thing."
"That is hardly the case," he told her. "Who doesn't like Bogart? It's un-American. I'm sure the Navy used his movies to suss out German sympathisers."
They lapsed into a contented silence. As the floor was considerably less crowded than at the club two nights previous, he began to open up their moves, spinning her around. It left her giddy and flushed. When he walked her back to the table, she was grinning from ear to ear.
"Is Ellie still not back?" Henry observed as they came upon Howard.
Howard shook his head and glanced around. "I haven't seen her. Do you want me to look for her?"
"I'll check the powder room," Kitty offered, and did just that. Ellie wasn't there, but Kitty saw a flash of green in a secluded corner as she walked back to the table. She started to investigate; the green dress looked like Ellie's. Two steps closer confirmed it, but Ellie was not alone. She was engaged in a private conversation with Morris Fielding. He was holding her hand, obviously entreating her. She didn't meet his eye, but she was smiling and whispering back at him. It looked like an intimate scene, and Kitty blushed to have stumbled upon it.
Fielding caught Ellie's chin and began to angle her face so that he might kiss her.
"Ellie!" Kitty called out with some alarm.
It was not very loud, but Ellie nearly jumped out of her skin. In the embarrassment of discovery, she moved a step away from Mr. Fielding and put a hand to her now flaming cheeks. "Kitty, what are you doing here?"
"What am I --? What are you doing?" Kitty was not mad, but she was awfully close. "Your brother is looking for you."
"Hello, Wisconsin." Mr. Fielding finally entered the conversation as smoothly as ever. "It's a pleasure to see you again."
"I cannot say the same," Kitty tartly retorted. She grabbed Ellie's wrist and dragged her away. If they were going to have a fight, it was better to do it in the semblance of privacy.
Ellie protested at Kitty's rough handling but did nothing effective to stop it until they were safely inside the powder room where she wrenched her arm free.
"What has gotten into you?" Ellie snapped angrily.
"Into me?" Kitty was all disbelief. "It's what's gotten into you that I'm worried about!"
Ellie was coldly furious. "I don't know what you're talking about!"
"Eleanor Tilney!" Kitty stamped her foot. "You are not going back out there until you tell me what is going on, or I am going straight to your brother."
Ellie scoffed at such a threat but made no move to leave. Apparently, Kitty had found her weakness. She now needed to press her advantage while it lasted.
"What is Mr. Fielding doing here?" she asked.
"I invited him," said Ellie, self-assured. "He arrived late because he had to perform at The Arrow Club. When he did show up, I saw him first. Otherwise, he would have come straight to the table to meet me, in front of Henry and everybody."
Kitty pressed her lips into a frown. "And what were you doing with him?"
"I was saying hello." She was more defensive now. "I hadn't seen him for hours, and he looks so handsome in a tux."
"Lots of men look handsome in a tuxedo," Kitty pointed out. "You don't greet them all like that."
"What do you know about it? And why do you care, so long as you've got Henry to dance with? Not that he even notices. Don't be jealous just because I've found someone who cares about me while you're still pining."
Ellie's words were intentionally hurtful, spoken in anger, a defense mechanism to shield her from justifiable criticism. To that end, they were horribly successful.
It was now Kitty's turn to blush beet red and she staggered back as if slapped. She couldn't deny the truth of it, but it was terrible to hear it spat out like that by someone she called a friend. With a tremor in her voice, she told Ellie, "That's not fair."
She flew out of the powder room, but as soon as she was out, she checked herself. Where could she go? Not back to the table where Mr. Henry and Mr. Ashley were waiting for her. Not back to Ellie. Not to anywhere inside the restaurant. Her face, she was certain, broadcast too much of what she was feeling right now. She could not remain where she was, where she might be discovered by somebody.
She ran outside. The air was refreshingly cool on her cheeks as she wiped away tears. She must look completely frightful, she knew, but there was nothing to be done about it now. Perhaps she'd find time to repair the most obvious damage before anyone saw her, but it was enough now to be alone, where she could look like a mess if she chose to.
It was Mr. Ashley who found her. Of all the possibilities, she was so very grateful it was him. He recognized her distress at once and she was able, through her sniffles, to pass it off believably as homesickness. And upon saying it, she realized how true it was. He passed her his handkerchief to dry her eyes, and slipped his jacket on her shoulders as the night air, initially so welcome, had only grown colder.
"How did you find me?" Kitty asked when she grew calmer. "How did you even know to look for me?"
"Miss Tilney came back to the table about fifteen minutes after you left," he said. "Henry and I were just starting to get worried about the both of you when she came up and announced that you two had had a fight, and that you'd run off."
Kitty nodded. It was humiliating but true, and far less humiliating than the full truth. She started to apologize for being such an inconvenience, but Mr. Ashley gently laughed it off.
"Oh, it was no trouble at all," he said kindly, "as long as you're all right. It was kind of exciting for a moment. And to think that I found you! Won't Henry be jealous."
"Thank you," she said quietly. He was harmless and comforting and, Kitty realized morosely, a born sidekick, not unlike herself.
"Are you ready to go back yet?" he asked. "Or shall I go ahead and let them know you've been found?"
She still felt too miserable for company, so she sent him away. He'd find the other two and have the car brought around. She had only to wait in the shadows near the valet stand.
He was back a few minutes later, with a Tilney on either side of him. Ellie broke away as soon as she saw Kitty and ran to her, throwing her arms around Kitty's neck and begging for forgiveness in such a haphazard way that she was very nearly crying herself.
The gentlemen gave the girls space to mend their friendship while the valet found the car, and eventually Kitty was able to sit in the back seat knowing she looked awful, but Ellie did too. She clutched Ellie's hand for comfort, and received an answering squeeze. No one spoke of what had transpired except for Mr. Ashley's vague parting wish that she feel better in the morning as she returned his jacket. Her parents would have pried into every detail, no matter who was listening in.
As they pulled into the driveway, Kitty thought she had made off scot-free until Mr. Henry asked if he might have a word with her in the kitchen. She tried to claim that she was too tired to talk tonight, but he promised to keep it brief. Ellie was of no support but Kitty managed to delay him by asking if she could wash her face and change her clothes for bed first.
When she finally walked into the kitchen with Mavis' robe cinched securely about her waist, he was waiting for her with two glasses of milk. As he slid one glass over the counter toward her, he waited for her to take a sip before he began.
"I was very worried about you tonight, Kitty. I think you know but perhaps you've forgotten: you're just as much my responsibility as Ellie is, and I don't want anything bad to happen to you."
She had been on the receiving end of enough of these lectures from her parents that she didn't bother to deny anything. "Yes sir."
"I'm not your father, Kitty."
She huffed a sigh and mumbled, "Yes, Henry."
He frowned at her petulant tone. "Of the two, you are supposed to be the responsible one. We started out missing Ellie, but somehow you were the one who ended up lost. How did that happen? What did you two even argue about?"
There was no good answer, so she didn't try to make one. She just stared at the floor waiting for a hole to open and swallow her up.
"Kitty?" He leaned forward until he was in her line of sight. "Kitty?" So much for keeping it brief! He was going to wait her out.
"What did Ellie say?" she asked. She didn't want to admit to more than she had to. The whole argument had been too painful to reiterate.
"Just that you had run off, and she was worried sick about you," he said. "And I confess, I was worried too, to see her face. What if something had happened to you?"
"Henry, I'm sorry. It was stupid. I know that and I won't do it again." If he wasn't trying to treat her like a child, he was doing a poor job of it.
"It is a terrifying sensation, being worried about you." His tone softened and he put a hand on her shoulder, as much to get her to face him as to be able to shake sense into her, whichever the situation demanded. "I depend upon you too much for you to get into mischief like that. You're an amazing secretary, you spoil me better than Susan ever did. You have no idea how valuable you are. And you are, Kitty, incredibly valuable... to me. I care about you deeply and it pains me to see you like this. If you think Woodston is a mess now, just you wait until tomorrow when Miss Corwyn comes back. You'll get an idea of what passes for competent office work around here and we'll both have a laugh."
This man had sulked inexplicably for the last two days. Now that he was determined to be cheerful again, and without bothering to explain himself, he expected her to be equally blithe. She had behaved childishly for less than an hour and yet she was being harassed to provide a full accounting. If Kitty could respect Henry's antisocial fits, why could he not extend to her the same courtesy?
And then Kitty knew the answer: because she worked for him. He was free to act however he chose, and she was obligated to behave as it pleased him. Somewhere at the root of all this, Ellie had the right of it: beneath Henry's facade of friendship, Kitty was merely the secretary.
She could listen to him no longer. Sounding like her father was bad, but reminding her that he was her boss was worse. She shrugged off his hand and his lecture. "Mr. Tilney, I said I'm sorry, and I am. But I'm also very tired. I really need to go to bed now, if you'll excuse me."
With that, she left him in the kitchen.Continued In Next Section