Posted on 2014-07-10
Kitty slept soundly but when she woke, memories of the night before came back to her and she was almost too embarrassed to go to breakfast. However, she couldn't avoid Henry indefinitely. If not over breakfast, then during the drive with him to Woodston she'd have to face the music. Having resolved to get it over with as soon as possible, she went outside and greeted him with a contrite apology.
Henry accepted it with the sincere wish that all discord was now behind them. To that end, he had already found some articles in the paper that he knew would amuse her. Through his gentle attentions he was able to guide her back into good humor and the easy, familiar footing that had defined their interactions on the first two days of this trip.
When at last it was time to leave, Kitty expressed her interest in meeting Miss Corwyn finally, and asked Henry about her but he would add nothing to the hints he had given earlier. Friends again, he could afford to tease her and made her wait until she could meet Woodston's secretary and form her own opinions.
Miss Corwyn arrived late, which Kitty learned was usual. She spoke with an English accent, and her dress was so tight that Kitty thought it must have been pieced together during the height of wartime rationing. She smiled sourly during the introductions as Mr. Reid sang Kitty's praises. The softening of her features on hearing that Kitty would be leaving at the end of the week lasted only until she realized that Kitty would be travelling back to New York with Mr. Henry, whom she regarded with proprietary interest.
Miss Corwyn insisted she sit in on the morning meeting; Mr. Reid's warm commendations of Kitty still stinging in her ears. For her part, Kitty settled in front of the typewriter, working her way through a stack of notes and other papers, and answering phone calls as they came in.
The meeting broke up after an hour so Miss Corwyn could smoke a cigarette, an activity she could not do while scribbling notes. Henry disappeared into a small office set aside for his use during the week. Mr. Dunwoody didn't appear at all, but Mr. Reid walked out to check with Kitty. She handed him a few slips of telephone messages from the other branches and he skimmed through them.
To make conversation, and because she felt like she could use a break, she asked him how the morning was going. He made a small face and said that the meetings seemed better earlier in the week, which might have been an oblique compliment to herself or a criticism of Miss Corwyn. It might also have been a regret against the acquisition but he then spoke of Northanger Federated as if he was growing more confident and accustomed to the outcome. In fact, he continued to talk to her of the meeting, and his hopes for "the merger" for a while until she felt the need to stop him and apologize for taking up so much of his time.
"Oh, it's no inconvenience. Miss Corwyn won't be back for another half-hour at least," he said before adding, "Would you ever consider moving to California, Miss Morland? There'd be no shortage of opportunity if you did. Why, I'm sure Woodston would still need a secretary in the office even after we join Northanger."
Kitty lowered her eyes. Mr. Reid was a bit of a sweetheart, but she didn't think she could leave Mr. Henry or Ellie or Mavis just yet, disagreements notwithstanding. Her family was still acclimating to the fact that she was in New York; California was so much farther away. "I'm sorry, Mr. Reid, but I quite like where I am right now. But I'll definitely consider it, when my situation changes. Shall I get you when Mr. Tilney and Miss Corwyn are available to continue the discussions?"
He nodded disappointedly and toddled off.
Time past and Miss Corwyn finally dragged herself back. "Are they waiting for me yet?" she asked without preamble.
"No one's asked where you are," Kitty answered.
"Well, I'm back now," she huffed. "If they don't want to get together again, I have other things I can do." With that, she began rapping on office doors, drawing the men out and marshalling them back into the meeting room.
They broke again for lunch. When the morning session ended, the men promised their secretaries that they would return promptly at 1:30. Mr. Reid expressed a hope that Miss Corwyn and Miss Morland would eat together, but Miss Corwyn flatly refused; she had already made plans. Kitty again ate lunch by herself in the nearby diner.
Miss Corwyn returned to her desk at 1:52 on the dot. Reid had been trying to talk Kitty into sitting in on the meeting if the Woodston secretary was any later, but now that she had arrived, Kitty could return to her notes and transcription. The phone rang, magically timed so that Miss Corwyn was both close to it and interested in picking it up. She snatched it up and spoke in an exaggerated voice that could clearly be heard in Mr. Reid's office, "Woodston Women's Clothing. Miss Corwyn speaking." She paused to listen to the caller, rolled her eyes, and put him on hold. A few button pushes later, the phone rang muffled behind Mr. Henry's door.
"Great, just great," she muttered to herself, grabbed her purse, and walked out again.
Kitty turned back to her typewriter with a shake of her head. Northanger Federated wouldn't last a week if all the secretaries behaved like Miss Corwyn.
A quarter of an hour later, Mr. Dunwoody appeared and asked where everyone was. Miss Corwyn was still out but Kitty could see that Mr. Henry was no longer on the telephone.
"Well, if Tilney's available again, let's have you take notes for us," said Dunwoody. "That's why he brought you all this way, isn't it?"
Kitty absorbed his condescension and uncharitably thought that Mr. Dunwoody and Miss Corwyn deserved each other, but she did not voice it. Instead, she stood up and said, "Let me check with Mr. Tilney."
She knocked and after a vague noise of welcome, she let herself in. Henry was lounging in his seat, staring into nothingness. She shut the door behind her and walked into the center of the room, where he could see her if his eyes bothered to fix on her.
"Mr. Dunwoody would like to continue your meeting now."
Mr. Henry continued to sit immobile.
Kitty cleared her throat. "Mr Tilney?" she said more loudly.
He focused on her at last. "Kitty?" Had he forgotten she was currently Miss Morland?
"Are you well, Mr. Tilney?"
He sighed and leaned back even further in his chair. "Oh Kitty, I do not much feel like Mr. Tilney right now."
"Is everything all right?" she asked, daring to pry. "Who called for you? Miss Corwyn answered, and she left again right after, so I couldn't ask her who it was. What happened? Do you want to talk about it?" It was a ridiculous presumption to think he'd want to talk about it with her, but the words were out there before she could stop them.
He sighed as if the burden he bore could not be shared. Whatever news he had received had not been good. "I need a few more minutes, maybe a quarter-hour. Stall them for me, will you?"
"I'll tell them you're taking care of something for New York?"
He nodded absentmindedly. "That would be lovely."
He didn't exactly dismiss her, but turned his attention back within himself. Kitty ebbed from the room with soft steps.
Dunwoody and Reid did not challenge the excuse although they did ask if it was about Northanger's deal with Woodston. Kitty refused to comment on the possibility. "Mr. Henry didn't say."
Verna Corwyn who returned soon afterwards was less accommodating. "I rush back and now I have to wait? I find this behavior unprofessional," she proclaimed which Kitty found a bit rich.
"Perhaps, while you're waiting, Miss Corwyn," Mr. Reid suggested, "Miss Morland can talk with you about our filing system? She has complained how hard it is to find things, and I'm sure you've noticed it too."
Miss Corwyn answered with saccharine sweetness that she would be delighted, then grit her teeth as Mr. Reid stayed to watch "a real secretary at work."
Kitty was in a difficult position. On the one hand, Mr. Reid thought she walked on water; on the other hand, Miss Corwyn looked eager to drown her. She took a deep breath, set her notepad aside, and recited one of her lectures from Madison.
By the time Mr. Henry emerged half an hour later, folders were beginning to pile up all over the office as Kitty and Miss Corwyn emptied the cabinets. Upon seeing Mr. Henry, Corwyn promptly dropped her folder, spilling its contents across the floor
"Mr. Tilney, if you're ready now, we can get back to work," she said crisply. Evidently, taking notes was less loathsome than refiling the office, and Kitty could agree with that.
The first part of the afternoon session lasted just 45 minutes longer, when Miss Corwyn had another cigarette break. After giving her five minutes, the men called Kitty in to join them. She spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in on the meeting
As the four of them filed out of the conference room close to quitting time, they found Miss Corwyn sitting calmly at her desk, the piles of folders unmoved in any way. Dunwoody called her out for not doing any work, but she innocently remarked that she couldn't remember Miss Morland's instructions on filing, and she didn't want to do anything until Miss Morland was available to explain it all again.
Kitty sighed inwardly. Miss Corwyn wasn't stupid, she just didn't care to do her job very well. If Kitty had come to California instead of New York after graduation, how different her life would have been!
Kitty wanted to quiz Mr. Henry on the mysterious call that had affected him so utterly, but he had rebuffed her earlier attempt and she could not find the ill manners to ask a second time. She hoped he would decide to confide in her on his own, however it was not to be. It continued to eat at him in silence through the drive from the office.
When Ellie greeted them at home, her enthusiasm and excitement made a sharp contrast to her brother's gloom. She brushed aside his subdued request to call off their plans, declaring that, "Nothing but nothing will keep me in tonight!" She then pulled Kitty into her bath before turning her attention back to Henry. Ellie had spent a good deal of time preparing for tonight and she wanted it to go perfectly.
Kitty complied with her usual willingness despite a growing sense of unease that she seemed to have caught from Mr. Henry. She was left mostly to herself while she could hear Ellie's admonishments to her brother to hurry up and various doors opening and shutting. Tonight's dress was a pale pink. She smiled to herself as she ran her hands over the billowing skirt and imagined dancing in it, feeling as glamourous as a young Ginger Rogers. Then she recalled Ellie's unkind words from the night before, and a frown broke out upon her face. And when she saw the price tag still attached, she huffed in refusal and went to find Ellie.
Ellie had just returned to her room.
"You wouldn't believe Henry," she complained. "You'd think he was going to his funeral. Zip me up, would you?"
Kitty did as she was bid. When done, she spoke. "Ellie, you can't let me wear that dress. You've never even worn it."
"Oh, but I bought it today just for you," Ellie explained.
Kitty was stunned. She had seen the price tag; there was no way she could accept such a generous gift. Before she could lodge a formal protest, Ellie continued. "I feel so bad about what happened between us yesterday. It was wrong, terribly wrong of me. I know you said that sisters can be just as bad as brothers, but I didn't think for a million years that could mean me. I just wanted to say I was sorry, and I hope that you'll forgive me."
Kitty hugged her friend. "Ellie, I already have. You didn't need to buy me anything!"
Ellie grinned impishly. "Oh, but you've got to accept it now," she crowed in triumph. "For I won't tell you where I bought it so you can't take it back. And what do you think of the dress I bought for myself? It's a dream!"
Thus ended any disagreement between the girls. Kitty resigned herself not to blink at Miss Tilney's generous nature although she could not match even a nickel to the dollar.
The girls finished ahead of Mr. Henry who had grown more sluggish and reluctant. He was finally drawn from his room with Ellie shoving him from behind, his collar still unbuttoned and his tie draped loosely around his neck.
"Mr. Henry, are you all right?" Kitty asked. If she kept asking, maybe he'd admit to something eventually. He didn't look ill but there was clearly something wrong with him.
He dug in against Ellie's forceful attempts to keep him moving as he weighed Kitty's question. "I suppose I don't feel well, after all," he admitted, almost relieved to find words for it.
Ellie audibly scoffed and pressed a palm to his forehead. "No fever," she announced. She tapped the sides of his throat and declared he was fit enough to drive them tonight. "Drop us off if you must; I'm sure Morris can take us home when he's done for the night," she said. "Although it would be a shame for you to miss out on tonight when Kitty looks so pretty."
Kitty blinked in surprise. Did Ellie just say that? Did she just wink at Kitty as she said it? Was Ellie about to spill the beans on Kitty's crush? Or was she still trying to make it up to Kitty, by trying to give her a chance to attract his notice? Whatever the reason, Kitty could only watch in mute dread for his reaction. He grimaced slightly, but he had been frowning all afternoon, and no dawning realization lit his features. Kitty almost breathed a sigh of relief. When she got a moment alone with Ellie, she would have to say something to her.
"Can't we just stay in tonight?" he asked, beleaguered.
Ellie fussed with his collar and tie. "As I said, you may drop us off and go home to take a hot sulk and a cold bath for all I care, but Kitty and I are going to The Arrow Club tonight, and we are staying until last call. We are going to dance and laugh and have such a good time, and if you're going to be a grump, you don't have to stay. I'm sure Kitty and I will do just fine without you, won't we, Kitty?"
Kitty was not altogether sure, but Ellie had moved on. "Oh, bother! Kitty, can you fix this tie? I don't know who is responsible for coming up with those knots, but they must delight in frustrating me."
Kitty frowned at Ellie's maneuvering. She couldn't tell if Ellie was being intentionally blatant or if she -- Kitty -- was just being overly sensitive. At all costs she must act like there wasn't anything blatant going on. And maybe Kitty needed to explain to Ellie that sisters could be worse than brothers even when they were trying to be helpful.
She stepped forward and first smoothed the rumpled strip of fabric. Ellie had done a number on it. If he had been one of her brothers, she would have made fun of him being unable to tie it himself, because that's what sisters did, but he looked too miserable for teasing. She mumbled the steps aloud to soothe them both. "Around and through. Fold and drape. Pinch. Through again. Tighten and smooth. And we're done."
She smiled up at him but he didn't notice her. He was stuck in some foul reverie. Perhaps he really was sick? Perhaps Ellie was too eager to take his symptoms seriously?
She brushed a hand against his forehead; he might be running a fever after all. The unexpected contact made him flinch. Kitty felt a pang of alarm at his reaction, and pressed her hand again to his skin. He didn't feel overly warm, but not everything started with a fever.
"Henry, won't you tell me what's wrong?" she asked, but received no direct answer.
"Just keep an eye on Ellie tonight," he admonished instead.
Worried by his vague warning, she went in search of Ellie who was in her room, finishing her toilette.
"I know you have your heart set on it, but maybe we should stay home tonight," she suggested. "Something is wrong with your brother. We can 'phone the club and let Mr. Fielding know, and we can go tomorrow night instead."
"Oh no!" cried Ellie, finally taking Kitty into her confidence. "It has to be tonight. You see, Morris said he has something very particular he needed to ask me... Oh, Kitty, he's going to propose! Isn't it romantic!"
Kitty was stunned. "Marriage?" she said dully.
"I know!" Ellie squealed, oblivious to Kitty's lack of enthusiasm. "He was going to speak to Henry this afternoon, to ask for his blessing, that sort of thing. I had no idea he was so traditional. I mean, he said we don't need my family's express permission, so I suppose he's not too old fashioned."
That explained Henry's behavior, and the telephone call that Miss Corwyn had directed to him. No wonder he was beside himself! "When your father finds out, he'll be furious," was all Kitty could say.
"Daddy will understand, in time." At least Ellie was no so gullible that she didn't expect some opposition. "Grampy was the same way when Mother got engaged."
"Ellie, isn't this awfully fast?" Kitty didn't know what else to say. "I mean, you met him a few days ago. How much do you really know about him?"
Ellie laughed it off. "Know? What's to know when you're in love?"
"When is his birthday?" Kitty asked. "Does he have any family? Where did he grow up? Where will you live?" It was on the tip of her tongue to ask about money, what they were going to live on. If Mr. Tilney withheld Ellie's allowance until he had reconciled himself to the match, if that took years rather than months, if it took until Ellie turned 25, how would they live? Ellie had just given Kitty a dress worth more than Kitty's entire wardrobe going back years. How would Ellie cope with reduced circumstances when everything in her life up to now had been handed to her on a silver platter?
Ellie only laughed again. "I'll find out in time. We've got the rest of our lives to figure out the details. Oh, Kitty, don't you see? I have to be there tonight."
Kitty sighed, but what else could she could do against an unstoppable force?
Henry Tilney was like a man going to his own execution as they walked into the club. He pushed his food around on his plate during dinner. Kitty began to wonder if he might have given himself an ulcer in the course of a day.
At last, the master of ceremonies announced Morris Fielding and all eyes were drawn to the stage. Mr. Fielding appeared and opened with a love song. Ellie gushed up at him.
When his set was over, Ellie could barely contain herself. She bounced in her seat and clutched at Kitty's hand to calm herself. A second group came out to the stage, a trio of girls who sang in close harmony and called themselves "Sisters."
"Where is he?" Ellie asked impatiently. Finally, she spotted him. "There he is!" she said in a stage whisper. Kitty shot a glance at Henry who looked like he might be ill at the table.
Mr. Fielding came up to them and smiled for everyone. Ellie looked up at him like he had hung the moon and the stars. He took her hand and bowed low over it. "Miss Tilney, you look simply divine tonight," he charmed her before turning to Kitty. "Miss Morland, may I have this dance?"
Kitty looked up in shock. Ellie giggled at Morris' joke and shooed her friend onto the dance floor, so Kitty took Mr. Fielding's hand and they joined the other couples.
She couldn't think of what to say to him, if she should mention the proposal or keep mum about it. At last, she decided to simply inform him that, "Ellie's really excited to be here tonight."
"I'll bet she is," he smirked. "I take it she told you all about it."
Kitty nodded. "She said you even asked her brother for his blessing."
"And what did Mr. Tilney say?" he asked darkly.
"Nothing to me," Kitty admitted, reluctant to tell this man anything. "But it's obvious he couldn't give it." Kitty plainly felt like a supporting character in this scene, but it did not follow that she had to provide exposition.
"Nothing?" he repeated, incredulous. "Nothing at all? Come now, Wisconsin, I thought you had them both in your confidence. I imagined brother and sister taking turns telling you their secrets."
He was appalling, not a hero at all, and Kitty grimaced to be so close to him.
"So you really don't know what he said to me? Wouldn't you like to find out? No?" He waited for her to shake her head. "Perhaps I should tell you anyway, so you're not so surprised when they turn on you."
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said.
Mr. Fielding smiled bitterly. "Then let me explain because you're in need of an education. You see, when I met Ellie... I'm sorry... When I met Miss Tilney, I thought I had found my ticket to Easy Street. And I had, but I didn't realize that the train I was on doesn't actually stop there; it just keeps going. In that respect, you and I are a lot alike, Wisconsin. Don't you forget it, because they sure won't."
Kitty started to protest but he wasn't finished.
"I called him. I told him of my intentions. Your Mr. Tilney couldn't stomach the thought of his sister marrying an actor. He said she'd be cut off financially. Threatened that her family and friends would disown her."
Kitty leapt in to deny this spurious claim, but he added, "I'm sure he didn't mean you, Wisconsin, but let's be honest: you're not the sort of friend who counts. Then he offered me an out, something to save me from degrading the woman I love, from sentencing her to a life of misery by my side. And, of course, I would get something to take the sting out of my own hide, a little cushion to ease my fall."
The song was nearly over. They had made a circuit of the room and were close again to the table where Ellie sat in such patent anticipation.
"He offered to buy me off." Mr. Fielding's mouth twisted angrily. "All I have to do is break her heart."
With that, he stopped. Kitty didn't know what to do. He was lying, wasn't he? Henry wouldn't do that to Ellie, would he? The story was horrible, fantastic, yet there was a kernel of believability in it.
She tried to think of something to say to him, some defense of Henry, some hope for Ellie. As usual, she came up empty but she still struggled in the attempt.
That try ended before it began. The moment she opened her mouth, he brought his lips down on hers, kissing her in full view of Ellie.
Her brain had to cut through a layer of disbelief and denial before it could spur her body to action. By then, his arms were wrapped too tightly around her to be easily thrown off. She did not give up, however, and had some satisfaction in pushing him away. She brought her foot down with enough force to break Mavis' heel across his instep but he moved too fast for her. Henry Tilney had already spun him about and socked him in the eye.
2014-07-10 Posted on 2014-07-10
While Mr. Henry was escorted by the burly security guard to a back room where he could receive a stern lecture from the management and conduct a financial transfer to Mr. Fielding in private, the girls were also taken to another back office so that Ellie could rail against Kitty without making a larger scene in front of the club's other patrons.
Ellie's first shriek of outrage had transitioned to loud accusations that flowed with her tears, hot and fast. She had trusted Kitty, but Kitty had betrayed her. Kitty was... "a false friend... deceitful, conniving... jealous... ungrateful... greedy." She hurled every epithet she knew.
Kitty sat through the diatribe silently at first, then with pleading that Ellie would listen to her. Finally, Kitty had to grab Miss Tilney by the shoulders and give her a small shake to get her attention before pouring out the story she had gotten from Fielding. Of course Kitty had softened the bitterness, but it was still a condemnation of Henry and Ellie redirected her anger at him.
Again Kitty tried to explain and mute the hurt Henry had inflicted. "It was wrong of your brother to offer the money, very wrong. But it was a hundred times worse for Mr. Fielding to accept it without even fighting for you. If he truly loved you, he would never have hurt you the way he did. He would have found a way, either figured out how to win your family's approval or figured out a way you could live without it."
Her words began to have effect, and Ellie was able to ignore her brother with mature frigidity when he finally arrived to take them to the waiting car. Henry, for his part, played the stoic, offering no excuses or details, and drove them home.
In the car, Ellie gave way to sobs, weeping and curling her body against Kitty who tried to soothe her. Once at home, Kitty eased Ellie into bed. The girl, exhausted by the enormity of what she had just lost, fell into an uneasy slumber.
Kitty stood and stretched. Being sidekick to the heroine was hard work -- dancing with and being kissed by Morris Fielding were prime examples -- but it sure beat bearing the headlining heartbreak.
She wished she could crawl into her own bed and sleep until tonight was just the memory of a dream, but she wanted to talk with Mr. Henry first. His role in the night's fiasco bothered her deeply. He had disapproved of Mr. Fielding, but how could he condone such treatment of his sister?
After slipping a sweater over her bare shoulders, she followed a light to the kitchen, where Mr. Henry was in evidence but not in residence. She found him outside sitting at the small table they used for breakfast. There was a drink on the table top, and a hot water bottle repurposed to hold ice for his bruised hand.
He smiled weakly and raised his wounded hand in greeting. "Dick would be so proud," he said. "He always doubted I could handle myself on a real fight. Not that tonight ranks very highly."
At that moment, Kitty couldn't care less which insecurities the eldest Tilney sibling had talked his brother into having. Right now, she was focused on what Henry had done to his little sister. "What you did to Ellie was unconscionable," she told him without preamble.
He rocked back in his chair to look at her. "What I did to Ellie?" he repeated without understanding. "What did I do?"
"You bribed Mr. Fielding to jilt her," she reminded him.
He straightened his spine. "I did what?" he gaped at her.
"You heard me!" She was quickly growing tired of his attempts to play at innocence. "When he called this afternoon to tell you he was going to propose, you tried to warn him against it. And when that failed you paid him to leave her."
He stared at her, immobile. "Fielding told you that?" he spoke at last. "Clearly, I should've hit him harder."
"Do you deny it?" Who would have told her this story if not Mr. Fielding? She hadn't heard it from Henry!
"He called me, yes," Henry admitted with agitation. "He said he was going to propose, that much is true. Then he wanted to talk about finances; he wanted to know how much my sister is worth, how much he'd be paid to keep her in comfort and happiness. It was all very mercenary. I tried to explain to him that Ellie's fortune is bound up in a trust controlled by our father; it isn't technically hers until she turns 25. The old man can withhold everything till then should she marry someone he disapproves of, which is an accurate description of Morris Fielding."
Kitty had already known about the trust; Henry had mentioned it back in New York. There was more to tell.
"When I told him he'll have to keep Ellie happily married for the next six years or so before he could cash in, he realized it wasn't a game he could win. So he told me to buy him off early. He even recommended the sum. That sort of behavior tends to rub me the wrong way and I lost my temper with him. After all, I am a Tilney. And at her heart, Ellie's one too."
"What does being a Tilney have to do with it?"
He half-lifted one shoulder. "We don't surrender, at least not to someone in so weak a position. Paying him now would be just like feeding a stray dog: I'd never be rid of him. And why should I bother? Do you have any idea what my father can do to a man like Fielding? As I said, this was not a game he could win. He'd never survive the engagement. And if by some miracle he married my sister, he'd have to stay married to her until she was of age. And when Ellie changed her mind -- he'd be a fool to think she'd delude herself for long -- I'd be ready to swoop in and drive her across the border to Nevada where they know how to get rid of unwanted husbands, posthaste."
Kitty considered his words. Henry's version of events was very similar to Mr. Fielding's but with such fundamental differences. "Why didn't you tell us?" she asked, feeling the scene shift around her. "Had we known his true character, so much trouble could have been avoided."
"I wanted to," he admitted, "but in the end, I didn't think Ellie would believe me. I was absolutely shocked to think that she had fallen in love with him so quickly, after such an inconsequential acquaintance, but he assured me that they had seen each other every day this week. He told me he had already hinted at the proposal to Ellie, and she had given him all the encouragement he could ask for. Her eagerness to see him again this evening confirmed it for me. Had I tried to separate them, who knows what she would have done?"
It was no stretch for Kitty to imagine Ellie agreeing to or even suggesting an immediate elopement. And considering that Kitty had been aware of Ellie spending additional time with that cad without mentioning it to Henry, she could not assign him all the blame for what had happened. "So you didn't buy him off. You didn't tell him to jilt Ellie."
"No," Henry agreed dismally. "I didn't tell him to do any of the things he did tonight. I told him to -- well, never mind my exact words. I called his bluff, and it was equally a disaster."
"You didn't buy him off," she repeated, feeling lighter than she had all evening. Henry had gambled, but it was Morris Fielding alone who had determined and executed his actions.
"No, I did not." He smiled at her in the dimness, before frowning in chagrin. "Well, not initially. In retrospect, it would have been less trouble had I just paid him up front."
"What do you mean?" Had Henry paid him or not?
He chuckled a little in self-deprecation. "Apparently, you cannot just walk up to someone in a club and punch them in the eye, even if it is your sister's so-called fiancé and he's kissing your secretary. It's called assault. People with black eyes can press charges. Other people -- those throwing the punches -- can end up in the custody of the police."
"Oh, Henry," was all Kitty could say.
"As I am in full and complete control of my inheritance, I can afford to spend a portion of it every so often on frivolities like staying out of jail. Morris Fielding got his money, and then some, but at what price?"
She could only shake her head at the situation.
"Kitty," said Mr. Henry, "do sit down before I lapse and start calling you Miss Morland again."
She slipped into her usual seat across from him with joyful alacrity. "Henry, I apologize for ever doubting you," she confessed. "I can't believe that I was so gullible. Mr. Fielding's story sounded so believable at the time."
Henry held no grudge. "It was believable because it was partly true, and he is a much better actor than we realized. Perhaps I should have haggled with him after all."
"Mr. Fielding does not deserve to be compensated for leading Ellie on like that." Kitty decided she preferred the Henry Tilney that did not bargain with villains.
"He deserves even less for that trick he pulled on the dance floor," said Henry. "Had I known he was going to kiss you, I would've struck him as soon as he came out."
That settled the last crumb to Kitty's satisfaction. "Oh, but what he did to me was such small potatoes compared to poor Ellie."
"Still, it did happen, and I do feel responsible," he pressed.
Kitty reached out and gently patted his injured hand. "Trust me, Henry, you've taken responsibility. Even my brother Pete would be proud. Morris Fielding won't be headlining with a shiner!"
He laughed at the image conjured up. With his good hand he reached out and laced their fingers together.
She smiled at the contact, then made an exaggerated face. "Besides, that's not the only unwelcome advance I've received on this trip," she told him.
He released her hand and pulled away slightly, stammering.
Kitty clapped her hand over her giggle. "Henry, the look on your face! Defending your sister's honor is quite enough. You don't think I expect you to fight everyone who stepped over the line with me too."
Relief and dread warred for expression across his features. "Who... How many are we talking about?" he choked out at last.
"Just two," she told him. "There was a fellow on Monday night who got a heel applied to his instep; I was about to do the same to Mr. Fielding when you so kindly interrupted us." She realized now she owed Mavis a new pair of shoes. Would she never be able to hang onto her money?
"And the second?" Henry prompted uneasily.
Kitty laughed lightly. "It's nothing improper really, but Mr. Reid asked if I would transfer to Woodston after the acquisition."
"The devil you say!" Reserve gone, he was ready to get up and leap into a ring for the second time that night.
"I told him no," Kitty was quick to say. "As much as I like California -- and I do like it more than I imagined, recent events notwithstanding -- I'm quite happy working for you in New York."
He was only slightly mollified. "He never should have made such an offer. The nerve of that man!"
"Henry, he meant no harm by it." She really thought he was over-reacting.
"Reid knows full well what it means to steal another man's secretary," he huffed. "Even to attempt it."
"Please, Mr. Henry. He asked. I told him no and I meant it. There's nothing more to say about it."
He was still nettled, so Kitty decided to save an argument by calling it a night. She made a show of yawning and suddenly there was no need to act tired. Once she started yawning, she took note of the lethargy stealing through her limbs. She had focused so much on Ellie that she still had to complete all her own preparations for bed, so she bid Henry goodnight and left him to his thoughts.
Morning dawned sunny, ignorant of the heartbreak and turmoil of the night before. Breakfast was waiting as usual, and Kitty realized sadly that this was her penultimate morning in California.
She and Henry contented themselves over the morning paper, unprepared for the surprise of seeing Miss Tilney make her way outside to join them.
"Ellie!" Kitty exclaimed. "What are you doing up?"
"I couldn't sleep anymore," she explained while the housekeeper brought out another place setting so that she might join them. "So I thought I'd have some bacon while it was still warm."
While Ellie got settled, Kitty made quick work of explaining her error of the night before in supposing Henry had already bought off Mr. Fielding. Ellie had already forgiven her brother. "In fact," she told them ruefully, "I wish you had done it. It would have saved me a few tears."
"The war is over. There's no need for rationing," Henry joked lightly, and they adjusted themselves to the new dynamic of three for breakfast.
"So, where shall we go tonight?" asked Ellie with false bravado after listening to a few headlines from the other two. "I want to go out and enjoy myself one last time before we head back to the monotony of New York."
Henry lowered his paper. "I don't think that's a good idea," he said. "Don't you? I thought we could have a quiet night at home for a change. There are some cards in the hall table; we could play gin rummy for hairpins or whatever valuables you girls have."
Ellie's smile faltered. "If it's all the same to you, I think I do want to go out. I need to prove that he didn't win."
"I think he's been beaten enough," said Henry with a touch of pride.
Kitty looked at the two siblings and decided to step in. "Perhaps just Ellie and I could go out? You know, a girls' night?"
"No," said Henry after a pause. "No, I like that idea even less."
"It will be perfectly fine," Kitty said. "We used to have girls' nights all the time in Madison. We even had something we called 'The Cure' where we'd take a girl out after... after her heart got broken." She looked intently at Ellie to see how she was taking this, but Ellie was avidly interested.
"What's the Cure?" she asked, all ears.
"Well, one or two friends would take out the... the poor girl... for a few drinks. For the first drink, you're allowed to talk about how wonderful the guy was. For the second drink, you have to talk about all the awful things he did to you. During the third drink, we talk about how much better off you are without him. And for the fourth drink, you have to tell who you'd rather go with instead. By the next morning, the louse is ancient history."
"Four drinks?" Henry didn't know what to make of it. "What kind of place is Madison?"
Kitty laughed. "We very rarely ever get through the second drink. At least, I've never done it, and I've had the Cure twice."
He looked at her with new eyes. "I find that hard to believe."
"You've heard about the other Miss Morland," she reminded him. "When I first moved to Madison, there were a few guys who didn't get the news until I had fallen for their lines. That's the downside to being eighteen and away from home for the first time: you fall for any smooth-talker who gives you the time of day."
With a guilty start, she looked over at Ellie, aware of the similarity of their situations. But Ellie was not offended. "It sounds perfect! Henry, you have to let us go!"
"Absolutely not!" he said. "There's no way I'm letting either of you out of my sight after a story like that."
But it was a war of attrition at this point. Ellie was determined to go out, if only to prove to herself that she had not been so deeply hurt by Morris Fielding as she had first believed herself to be. And when Kitty joined forces, saying she could ask Miss Corwyn for suggestions on safe places where two girls might go to drink away a heartache, Henry began to prepare his forces for an orderly retreat rather than a rout.
His first proposal was that he come along to chaperone. This was soundly rejected by both girls.
His second proposal, that Kitty would not drink so that at least one of them keep their head, had slightly more success. Ellie determined that Kitty must have one drink, but they could leave it at that.
His third proposal, that Ellie restrict herself to two drinks, was met with a shrug that promised nothing.
His fourth proposal, that they have an early night, was the only one that was a clear victory. Kitty promised to have them both back home, in their beds, before midnight.
He sighed and determined to be gracious in defeat although he could not shake the feeling that this was a bad idea.
Morning at Woodston was spent in cleaning and packing up while everyone waited for Miss Corwyn to stroll in. Kitty performed whatever secretarial duties were needed, including answering the telephone.
One early call proved to be Miss Girard, on behalf of Mr. Tilney from Northanger Federated. Kitty glanced around and saw signs of Mr. Henry in his temporary office. "I can patch you right through," she said.
There was a noise on the line, another voice. Miss Girard had muffled the receiver with her hand, then she was back. "Miss Morland, a Miss Allen wants to speak with you."
"Yes, of course," Kitty murmured, staying her hand over the transfer button.
"Kitty!" came Mavis' voice through the receiver. "I have terrible news."
"What?" Kitty instantly was on alert. "What is it?"
"The Hudsons are coming home early. They sent a cable. It arrived yesterday. They'll be home next Sunday. We need to be out of the house in a week."
Kitty slumped back in her chair. "Out?" She knew this day was coming, even before she had moved in. She had expected another week or two.
"It gets worse," Mavis continued. "I've started asking around to see where we can move to, but no one has room for two more. We'll have to split up."
That was bad news. If nothing else, Kitty would have to buy some new shoes of her own. "Maybe we can find two apartments that are relatively close," Kitty said, thinking fast. "If they're on the same block, we'll still be able to walk to and from work together."
Mavis thought that was a great idea and promised to check. She passed the phone back to Miss Girard. Kitty then transferred the call and went back to packing up her notes.
She paid Mr. Henry no additional attention; he had shut his door before he started speaking with his father. Instead, she waited until it was clear that he wouldn't need her and then asked Mr. Reid if she might pop down to the store floor for a few minutes to buy a new pair of shoes. He was pleasantly surprised by the idea, that girls from the East Coast might be keen on West Coast fashions, and had her wait while he wrote a letter to one of the floor supervisors giving Kitty free rein to choose a couple different pairs gratis that she might take back with her and show off to the other girls to drive up interest in the deal with Woodston. So it was that Kitty got four new pairs of shoes that day, although she had promised herself to give two to Mavis.
It surprised Kitty in retrospect how much time Mr. Henry had spent alone. He had stayed in his office while she had been shoe shopping, and was still there when Miss Corwyn waltzed in, irritated that no one was falling over themselves to greet her. Verna glowered and began knocking on doors, ushering the men out of their private pursuits and into the conference room. She snatched Kitty's notepad off the desk and stalked after them.
Miss Corwyn sat in with the men on their meeting until lunch while Kitty directed her energies to the piles of folders on the office floor. If she didn't get them back in their cabinets, Miss Corwyn would probably see to it they were still waiting to be filed when the deal with Northanger Federated was signed.
Shortly before the men broke for lunch, Miss Corwyn came out of the meeting room and lit a cigarette. She took a drag then looked at Kitty amid the stacks of papers and laughed. "It won't work, you know," she said in good humor.
Kitty looked at the piles around her, including the huge stack in her hands. She had made good progress so far, but it would be a close call. "Don't you think I'll finish in time?"
Corwyn rolled her eyes. "With Reid," she exhaled. "He's married, you know. He won't leave his wife for a secretary even if she comes straight from New York and knows shorthand."
Kitty recalled Mr. Henry's over-the-top reaction from last night when she had told him of Mr. Reid's offer, and wondered what was wrong with everyone. "I'm sure you're misreading the situation," Kitty said levelly. "I'm not interested, and I don't think he is either."
"Oh, really? Wanna bet?"
Before Kitty could reply, Miss Corwyn had taken a pencil and plucked a curl out of Kitty's updo, fashioning it to fall in her eyes. She started to protest but Miss Corwyn stuck the pencil between Kitty's teeth. Just then the door opened from the meeting room and the three men emerged. Miss Corwyn managed to grab a token stack of files from the desk and pick up her cigarette so she would not appear empty-handed before turning around to smile pleasantly at them.
Kitty wanted to ask what Verna Corwyn was playing at, but the pencil was an effective gag and she couldn't very well spit it out in front of the others. She made one small, unintelligible noise however which attracted the attention of Mr. Reid.
"My dear Miss Morland!" he exclaimed when he saw her. "What has happened to you?"
His declaration drew the notice of the others who filed out after him.
Henry saw and chuckled softly. "Miss Morland, have you been putting the files in cabinets or rolling around the floor with them?" He stepped forward and fixed her updo, running fingers through her hair and tilting her chin just so. He had a gentle touch, and she tried to ignore its effect on her, considering they were in a room with three other people. Still she was not immune. He found a spot of dirt smeared across her forehead and wiped it away with his handkerchief.
"Kitty, are you wearing rouge?" he asked in a low voice. "In the office?" For a moment, she was glad Miss Corwyn had shoved a pencil between her teeth.
"There. You're presentable again, a credit to Northanger Federated." He smoothed her hair one last time before releasing her chin.
"If we're done playing Beauty Parlor," Mr. Dunwoody barked out, "I'd like to get to lunch now."
Henry cleared his throat then stepped away.
The men shuffled out without further ado. Still blushing, Kitty turned to Miss Corwyn just in time to see a cylinder of ash drop from her cigarette onto the small stack of files she had forgotten she was holding. The door shut behind the men and left them alone.
"Oh my god," Miss Corwyn grit out.
"It's not what it looks like," Kitty breathed. She feared she was too transparent, that Miss Corwyn still had hours enough to make mischief with the knowledge she had just gained.
"All this time," Miss Corwyn lamented, "I thought you were angling for Reid and it turns out you've already got Tilney on the line! I underestimated you, Morland. You are a dark horse."
Kitty couldn't fathom what Miss Corwyn was saying. "What are you talking about?"
"I see now why he was so keen to fly in his own secretary all the way from back East. A secretary!" she mused. "What will they think of next?"
Kitty could only state in wonder.
"Come on," said Miss Corwyn. "I lost. Lunch is my treat."
"But I didn't bet," Kitty pointed out.
"I hate welchers," Miss Corwyn informed her, "so it's a good thing you won. Get your bag and let's go. I don't have all day."
2014-07-14 Posted on 2014-07-14
Kitty had no great desire to break bread with Verna Corwyn. The woman looked like the worst sort of busybody: all the energy she conserved from work could be expended in malicious gossip. Plus, after her loan from Mr. Thorpe, Kitty was reluctant to accept gifts from anyone she didn't trust. She resisted until Miss Corwyn casually threatened to compare notes with Mr. Tilney. Then she agreed, planning to wolf down her meal and return to the office before Miss Corwyn could embarrass her further.
She wasn't sure how Miss Corwyn had so completely misread the situation. Henry was merely helping her out, making her presentable again. As an older brother, he had probably been called on to help with braids and zippers and all sorts of girlish things. He was friendly in general, for no other reason than that he was a decent human being. And if Miss Corwyn thought that proved that he liked Kitty, her head would explode if she ever saw him in New York being polite and respectful to all the secretaries.
"So how long has this been going on, you and Tilney?" Corwyn asked as they were seated in a booth at another diner two blocks past Kitty's usual spot.
"There's nothing going on," Kitty corrected primly.
The other secretary laughed. "And I suppose he drives you back to your hotel each evening and wishes you chaste dreams." She laughed again at the ridiculous image.
Kitty couldn't very well tell the truth, that she was living in Mr. Henry's home, going out with him every night. Even if Kitty stressed the presence of Eleanor Tilney, Miss Corwyn was sure to have a field day.
"Actually, I'm going out with his sister tonight," Kitty said, anxious to talk about anything other than Henry.
Miss Corwyn cackled just the same. "His sister! You're playing the long game, Morland. You are better at this than you look. So he's introduced you to his sister?" She was truly tickled. "And his mother too, no doubt." Mention of a long game brought to mind Mr. Fielding and last night's disaster. Miss Corwyn couldn't do less to recommend herself if she tried.
"His mother died years ago," Kitty said, hoping to deflate the poor humor.
Miss Corwyn was temporarily subdued before she rallied. "I suppose that's one less hoop you have to jump through, and a sister is less suspicious than a mother. But then she's probably got the family jewels already, and I'm sure his family's got a few. You know that heirlooms aren't worth any more than the new pieces to outsiders, but if you can get your hands on one, the family'll do anything to get it back if things go south."
Kitty frowned as her appetite began to fail. She said nothing as the plates were brought out and ate her meal as quickly as she could.
Eventually, she spoke again. "Actually, Miss Corwyn, maybe you can give me some advice. As I said, I'm going out tonight with Miss Tilney. I need to find a place where two girls can get a few drinks. Someplace not too expensive."
"You mean, like a dive?" Miss Corwyn asked. "Sure, I know plenty."
"Not a dive!" Kitty was horrified imagining Ellie's reaction to such a place. "She... she had a disappointment recently and I wanted to take her out for a cure. We just want to go out and not be bothered by any boys."
"What would be the point in that?" Now it was Miss Corwyn's turn to find the scheme distasteful.
"Just forget it." Kitty was done. She had tried to get information from Miss Corwyn, but it was useless. "Thank you for lunch, Miss Corwyn. I'll meet you back at Woodston."
She stormed back to the office and busied herself with filing.
Doubt was a pernicious weed, but once planted by Miss Corwyn, Kitty couldn't help tending to it by reflecting back on the last week for more concrete signs of how Mr. Henry felt about her.
He had always been kind to her, even when they first met. Even considering how they first met. But on the other hand, he was kind to everyone, from the executive floor to the janitors' basement.
He had wanted her to meet his sister. While her initial fear that he was being charitably pitying had long since passed away, he had a history of not being romantically interested in Ellie's friends.
He had danced with her often in California, but he had already explained that he couldn't not dance with her here. He had complimented Kitty and told her she looked pretty, but he had done the same with Ellie, and never so earnestly that she felt there might be more than a casual appreciation. And when she compared how Henry's polite treatment of her with the aggressive and downright wolfish behavior she had observed occasionally in other men to show their interest... Well, there really was no comparison.
Like any good mystery, there were clues to support mutually exclusive hypotheses. Some of them had to be misleading, but which ones? She couldn't very well confront him; if he denied feeling for her anything beyond what he ought as her boss and Ellie's brother, she would die instantly of mortification. Faced with that alternative, she would gladly wait until the day Mr. Henry worked up enough nerve to make the first move.
The only possible loophole she saw was Ellie. Perhaps as Henry's sister, she had better insight into the little signs that telegraphed his interest. Kitty determined to find a time that night to ask her, in the most roundabout and discreet way possible, how Ellie knew when her brother really liked a girl.
Thankfully, Miss Corwyn came through in the end. After the men broke up their last meeting, she handed Kitty a slip of note paper with the name and address of one bar that would be a sure bet for a good time. Kitty had offered to copy the address for Henry shortly before the taxi arrived to take Ellie and Kitty out for the evening, but he declined.
"I trust you," he had told her. "Just keep an eye out for Ellie, and get home safe."
Kitty had wanted to know how much to read into that comment, but it left her distracted and dissatisfied, and Ellie demanded her full attention. So Kitty put away thoughts of Henry Tilney for the time being.
The girls arrived. A few steps in, Kitty was accosted by a familiar voice.
"Morland!" It was Miss Corwyn. "I've been waiting for you. I've got a table for us in the back. Go buy the first round; I'll take a gin and tonic." With that, she swooped in and led Ellie through the crowd, displaying the sweetest personality Kitty had ever seen come from her.
Kitty could only fume silently until she was jostled out of a dignified position by another newcomer. With a sigh, she went to the bar and ordered drinks. By the time she found the other two, Ellie was laughing and already having a great time.
"Oh, there you are, Kitty!" she exclaimed with delight. "Verna and I were just coming up with new rules for the cure tonight."
"New rules?" Kitty asked warily.
"Yes," said Miss Corwyn like the cat who swallowed the canary. "We'll make it like a game. It'll be more fun that way."
"All right, then, what's the first drink?" asked Ellie, getting into the mood.
"You're supposed to talk about things you liked about him," Kitty explained, dreading the alterations that were already planned
"Well, we'll make it a guessing game," said Verna. "I'll say something, and if Ellie liked that part about him, then she takes a sip. Otherwise, I'll take a sip. What do you think, Morland? Are you up for it?"
"This is going to be a riot," Ellie laughed. "You've never even met him."
"No, but you don't live out here long enough without meeting the type," Verna warned. "For example, I'll guess he was very handsome."
Ellie squealed. The game began.
Kitty did well in the first round, having a good idea of the attributes that attracted Ellie in the first place. By the time she had reached the bottom of her glass, the bar was now crowded and noisy, and Miss Corwyn suggested they move somewhere else.
"Oh, but we have a table here," Kitty pointed out. "And Henry won't know where to find us if we leave."
Miss Corwyn's eyes lit up at the name. "And is he coming to take you home and tuck you into bed later?"
Kitty turned beet red at the insinuation. Ellie had already let slip that Kitty was staying with the Tilneys, and that they had gone out every night this week together, but the younger girl was already pleasantly buzzed and was oblivious to any danger from Verna Corwyn.
Content with taunting Kitty, Miss Corwyn switched topics and explained that a band was about to start, which meant the bar would only get more crowded and noisy. They needed to find another place, quiet, where they wouldn't be bothered.
Ellie saddened as the mention of a band brought up thoughts of Morris, so Kitty acquiesced and Verna flagged down a cab.
They had their second drink at the second bar. Instead of discussing Morris Fielding's bad qualities, they each took turns describing a bad habit and the other two would have to take a sip if they had ever dated someone with that problem. Kitty drank very little at first as she had not dated much at Madison after the first few disasters, so Miss Corwyn decided to alter the rules.
"It's no fun unless we're all drinking," she pointed out.
"But I promised I wouldn't drink too much," Kitty said, trying not to whine.
"Well, I say, if you don't take a sip once every five times, then you have to drink anyway," Miss Corwyn amended. Ellie approved immediately, and Kitty was stuck making payments in arrears.
After they finished their drinks, Miss Corwyn insisted they go somewhere else. Kitty resisted but Miss Corwyn was firm.
"It's my round," she insisted. "I get to pick where I buy it."
The third bar was much more like a club than the other two. There was a dance floor with a handful of couples on it. The cure appeared to be working, because Ellie did not seem bothered at all by the band now when earlier that evening the mention of one had sent them in search of another bar. Miss Corwyn sent the other two off to find a table while she stood up front to place their order.
The drinks, when she brought them out, where not what Kitty was expecting.
"Those are shots!" she complained.
"Drink up, Morland. You're being a wet blanket."
"We've had enough to drink already."
"I haven't," piped up Ellie at just the wrong moment. She grabbed a small glass and drank it quickly, all in one go.
"Like a champ!" Miss Corwyn praised.
"Oh, what is this drink even for?" Ellie asked in retrospect. "Kitty, Verna, hurry up. You're falling behind me."
"The third drink is for how lucky you are to be rid of him," Kitty reminded her.
"Hear, hear! Good riddance to bad rubbish." Miss Corwyn knocked back her shot.
"Come on, Kitty," Ellie pleaded. "You've got to be even happier than me to be rid of him, considering how he behaved last night." She proceeded to tell a good bit of the story to Miss Corwyn, who lapped it up like cream.
"Morland, they can't keep their hands off of you," was all she would say. Her eyes glittered dangerously.
Kitty grimaced and drank her shot.
Ellie laughed in good fun. "Do you have any admirers at Woodston?" she teased.
Kitty denied it but Miss Corwyn spoke over her. "Your own brother was playing with her hair today," she confided.
Ellie didn't know what to make of that tale. She stared at both of them before bursting with laughter. The idea of Henry being interested in Kitty was patently ridiculous.
Miss Corwyn was content with the third bar. After the shots she sent Ellie to purchase the next round.
Alone with her, Kitty gave her a cold stare, but Miss Corwyn just shrugged it off and cast an appreciative eye at the crowd. "Don't look so sour, Morland. I'll be gone soon."
Ellie came back with a double round of shots. "They were so much fun," she said. "What's the fourth drink for?"
Kitty felt a pit open up in her stomach. "It's for the guys you'd rather date instead." There was no telling what Miss Corwyn had planned.
The other woman did not delay her opening move. "Well, I for one would love to go a round or two with your brother, Ellie. He's a prince."
Ellie found everything amusing. "All my friends fall in love with one of my brothers. I have two. The other one is an airman. He flew bombing runs over Germany."
"He sounds like a real hero," Miss Corwyn observed. "Have you met him, Morland? Is he every bit as dreamy as he sounds?"
Kitty nodded warily.
"You've got two brothers, you've got two friends. Pair us up, Ellie. Which one of us gets the war hero, and which one of us gets Henry?"
Ellie glanced between the two women, uncertain. "Well, I don't know. I mean, I don't know you very well, Verna, but if I had to guess, I'd say neither of you."
Kitty frowned but Miss Corwyn spoke out. "Neither of us? How is that possible?"
Ellie shrugged. "I mean, if all you want is a little fling, Dick is your best bet; Henry's not the sort to fool around. But neither of my brothers is going to end up with a --" She stopped before she said the last world but it was still a half-sentence too late to hide her meaning. She looked wide-eyed at the other two.
"With a secretary?" Miss Corwyn supplied. "A working-class girl like Morland or me?"
"I don't mean to be snobbish," Ellie backtracked. "Daddy's just very traditional. He expects us all to marry well. Old money if possible; new money if there's enough of it; that sort of thing. I mean, I like you both -- you especially, Kitty, you're like a sister to me -- just not with my brothers."
"But what about you?" Kitty blurted without thinking. "You nearly got engaged!"
The realization made Ellie thoughtful. "I suppose Daddy would have stepped in and made me see sense, or else bought him off and then kept me out of sight until someone suitable came along."
Miss Corwyn acted unaffected; perhaps she was. She was the kind of person who had to find her heart before it might be broken or lost. Kitty, however, felt the truth sting, worse still coming from Ellie. It answered the question of whether Henry might actually like her, but Kitty did not feel better for knowing.
"Well, enough about me," Corwyn said, "what about you, Morland? Who are you looking for?"
Before Kitty could deny anything, Ellie spoke up. "I know who she likes," she snickered. It was all a game to her.
Without thinking, Kitty kicked her friend under the table. Ellie yelped and shot a hurt glance her way but fell silent. Miss Corwyn observed it all with a widening smirk.
Kitty expected the horrible woman to begin her final advance, and she wracked her brain for a plausible denial but none was needed. Having confirmed what she had already suspected, Miss Corwyn then turned her attention to Ellie's heart.
Ellie shrugged and giggled and sipped from her glass. "I can't say," she demurred. "Besides, all the guys I know are on the East Coast."
Miss Corwyn looked around the bar in a stage gesture. "Well there's got to be someone in here who comes close."
Ellie glanced around, a blush forming on her cheeks as she considered her options before dissolving into giggled. "I can't," she laughed. "I just can't."
Corwyn took the lead again and smiled at some young man who took his cue and came forward. He was handsome and friendly, and when Miss Corwyn told him that today was Ellie's birthday, he played his role to perfection and asked her to dance.
The other two watched her go and be joyful. Morris Fielding was a distant memory at this time. And why shouldn't he be? Marriage to him had been impossible. He was as far beneath the Tilneys in that respect as Kitty herself.
"Are you satisfied?" she asked Miss Corwyn angrily.
"That depends. Are you grateful?" Miss Corwyn shot back. "I had no idea Tilney's family was such a classist nightmare. I guess that ruins your chances on the long game, but there's still plenty of fun to be had in the short term. He likes you, of that I'm certain. You should press your advantage while you have it. And if you won't, you need to make way for someone who will."
She continued on in this vein for a while before focusing her eye on Kitty. "Drink up, Morland. You just drink up. Go home to New York, and find a friend to take you out for a similar cure back east."
She pressed a glass into Kitty's hand, and Kitty responded with a series of mechanical sips.
When Miss Corwyn was convinced Kitty would find the bottom of her drink, she began to make her exit. Drawing the attention of another young man, she invited him to sit and talk to her. That was swell, but he'd rather dance, wouldn't she?
"Now that you mention it, yes, I would," she purred. "But I wouldn't want to leave my friend..."
Before the man could offer to round up a friend, Kitty turned him down. She much preferred to sit and watch the dancers. She had promised to keep an eye on Ellie, after all.
"Well, let me buy you a drink instead," he said, "so you'll have something to do while you sit."
Kitty tried to protest but Miss Corwyn accepted too eagerly, and the man trotted off to the bar.
He came back soon, exchanging a drink for a dancing partner. Kitty had spent enough time with Miss Corwyn to think she got a fair trade.
She sat and watched the dancing couples, wondering why she felt so awful now when her situation hadn't really changed. But perhaps it was better to be with hope than to have the glimmer of hope extinguished. It turned out that being the sidekick did not prevent her from getting her heart broken after all.
As she watched the happy crowd, she only felt herself grow more miserable and alone. With her drinks finally gone and Ellie showing no sign of fatigue with yet another dancing partner, Kitty stood up and walked over to the bar. She had intended to take back the empty glasses gathered on the table, and to ask someone for the time.
It was much less crowded than the club Ellie had dragged them to on Monday night, where everyone was packed in like sardines, but Kitty still needed care to thread her way through the clusters of people out on a Friday night. As she approached the bar, she heard a man's voice struggling to be loud over the din. It sounded familiar and welcoming, and she turned toward it, fumbling with her glasses to the point of nearly dropping them. She listened again, and was rewarded with another snippet of conversation, a question he was asking.
Abandoning her quest for the bar, she moved in search of the owner of the voice. When she saw him, the last person she would expect to see out tonight, her heart leapt.
Posted on 2014-07-17
Morning came far too early, was way too bright, and made too much noise.
The pounding on the bedroom door set off a pounding in her head, and Kitty groaned in discomfort, then groaned again and hid under the covers when someone entered the room and turned on the light.
"Good morning, darling. It's time to get up. We're wasting daylight." She felt the mattress depress and Henry sat on the bed. "I brought you some breakfast -- black coffee, dry toast, and juice. It should make you feel a little better."
Kitty didn't want to eat. She didn't want to drink either. She didn't want to have anything to do with being awake right now. "Go away," she told him weakly. "I feel sick."
"You are hungover, my dear," he happily announced. "Solidly hungover, and I hope this is a lesson you will not soon forget. Remind me not to let you go drinking with Miss Corwyn again. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. But it is time to get up. We're flying home today and everyone needs to pack."
Was he typically so long-winded? And didn't he have a familial obligation to harass his sister instead?
"What time is it?" she stalled from beneath the bedsheets.
"Nine in the morning." He was entirely too chipper.
"But that's only six o'clock, California time." This much felt just like her first morning here.
"That was three hours ago. It's noon in New York," he told her.
Kitty sat up in shock, then quickly collapsed against the onslaught of light as her skull threatened to crack open. "But it can't be noon!" she lamented. As her father would say, the day was half-gone.
"Come on," he coaxed her. "Eat your toast and drink your coffee. You need something."
She emerged once more, slowly and carefully. Her thoughts were still fuzzy, some of them were missing entirely, but as her brain took on more of its duties she realized something was not quite right. "Henry, where am I and why am I still wearing the same clothes from last night?"
This amused him. "You wandered into my room and fell fast asleep after you came home. Naturally, I left you be. I didn't think our relationship has progressed to the point where I could rummage in your drawers looking for a nightgown when you so obviously didn't need it and wouldn't do anything with it had I found it."
She remembered none of this, and it worried her. "And where did you sleep?" she asked him cautiously.
"On the sofa in the den," he answered her in equal caution, then switched to his normal insouciance. "It was insanely uncomfortable, and I think I scared Mrs. Harman half to death when she found me."
Kitty digested this instead of toast. "Why didn't you just sleep in my bed, if I was here?"
"Because Ellie was there," he replied.
She squinted at him. Surely it was not so hard as this? Surely he was capable of finding a bed for himself? "Couldn't you find a bed somewhere in the house?"
"Your concern is touching," he told her, "but Mrs. Harman was obviously in the housekeeper's room, and while the sofa in my office --" with a nod he indicated the adjoining room that might have served as a nursery or dressing room to the Baroness -- "folds out to a bed, I wasn't about to attempt it in the wee hours. Besides, the door to this room doesn't fully latch, and that struck me as both improper and unwise, all things considered."
Did he always talk so fast and loud? Why had she never noticed before? Was he trying to be clever so early? Why was he being funny at all when she felt so ill? As much effort as she put into thinking, she still didn't understand why he had slept on the sofa.
"Then why didn't you sleep in Ellie's room if she wasn't using it?" Why was this obvious to Kitty but not to him? What key fact was she missing?
"Because," Henry enlightened her, "for reasons I have yet to learn although believe me I will find out, Howard camped out in there."
"Howard?" repeated Kitty, feeling especially thick. "Mr. Ashley? Did he come over to keep you company last night while Ellie and I went out?"
Henry's cheery chatter dried up and the room went silent. Kitty found that if she closed one eye entirely, she could open the other quite wide. Henry was gaping at her. In the harsh morning light, his face looked drained of color and the stubble on his cheek stood out clearly.
She had never seen him so unkempt. He had always looked impeccable in the office, better still when they went out in the evenings. Even at the breakfast table, he maintained a high standard in his appearance. Henry Tilney was not vain -- well, maybe a little but deservedly so -- but she had never seen him with so much as a five o'clock shadow before. It was eye-opening to see him now with a day's growth of beard. He didn't look so completely unattainable like that.
Of course, that was an illusion.
"Howard..." he began, then stopped before starting again. "Howard came home with you. He kept you company last night. He carried Ellie in from the taxi because she had fallen asleep in the car. Don't you... Don't you remember any of it?"
A sick feeling wash down Kitty's back. What Henry was telling her, if it was true then she ought to remember it. He might tease, but he'd never make a joke like this, in such poor taste. She could find no recollection of meeting Mr. Ashley last night or of how they got home. There was a void in her memory that started somewhere in the third bar. She remembered drinking shots with Miss Corwyn, and Ellie explaining that even though her family wasn't snobbish, her brothers weren't meant to end up with lowly secretaries, and both Miss Corwyn and Ellie snagging dancing partners from the crowd. But after that, her memory petered out until it was morning again.
"You don't remember coming back to the house?" There was a small but growing ember of panic in his voice.
Kitty could only shake her head mutely. She had failed him. She had promised to look after Ellie and she hadn't. It had been sheer luck that nothing bad had happened to them, that they had made it safely back to Henry's house.
"You don't remember talking... you and me talking in the kitchen when you got home?" He wasn't panicked, he was stunned. "You don't remember anything?"
She cast her mind back again. She could clearly recall Miss Corwyn and drinking shots and watching Ellie dance. There was a gap, amorphous and confusing, marked by a headache. She had known it to happen to other people but never herself. She had never had that much to drink before. She vowed never to drink that much again.
"I'm sorry Henry," she told him.
He turned away and stood up, clearly disappointed with her.
"I need a shave," he muttered as an excuse to get away from her.
It broke her heart to disappoint him after receiving such trust from him. She thought desperately of what she could say to change his opinion of her, or at least the topic.
"I'm sure your beard is fine," she said. "It makes you stand out. No one wears a beard these days. And if you don't shave it now, it will be well enough established by Monday to wear into the office. All the girls at Northanger will be wild for it." Had she really just said that? There was a reason no one wore a beard. Was she entirely sober yet?
"I have no desire to fluster McAvoy's little chicks," he said, which sounded too much like a confirmation of what Ellie had told her last night. Tilneys were meant for better people. "Besides, Kitty, you hate my beard," he told her wearily.
"Nonsense!" she responded. "When have I ever even seen you with one?"
"Last night," he answered. "You were absolutely emphatic about it, said it was too prickly. I lost count of the number of times you asked me to shave."
"Too prickly?" Kitty scoffed. Before he could serve up a reply, she continued. "I was horribly drunk last night. You mustn't take anything I said seriously."
"I already tried that, you see. And now it's morning and I need a shave." With that, he disappeared into his en-suite bathroom and shut the door firmly behind him.
Kitty stared at the closed door and felt awful for reasons that had nothing to do with a hangover. She couldn't stand it, him thinking ill of her however well deserved it was. She got herself out of bed and stumbled over to the door.
"Henry!" she called out and knocked.
On the other side of the wood, she heard him yelp. "Kitty, I am shaving," he spoke in clipped tones. "Distract me and you take my life in your hands." He had never sounded angry with her before.
Chastened, she silently gathered her tray and left. He no doubt wanted his room back as soon as possible. Sleeping on a sofa had wrecked havoc on his routine thus far. After a shave, he'd want to put on some clean, unrumpled clothes and whatever else it was that he normally did each morning, in privacy.
She walked past the powder room in the hall, peering in briefly, and caught sight of herself in the mirror there. It was bad enough that she nearly dropped her breakfast all over the tile floor. And she had thought Henry looked unkempt!
Unsure of whether it was Ellie or Mr. Ashley sleeping in her room, and having no desire to intrude upon a man, she made herself as presentable as possible in the powder room using the materials at hand: her fingers instead of a brush and comb, cold water and a bar of soap in lieu of cold cream.
No matter how much she tried, she still looked pitiful, worse than any tragic actress she had seen on screen. She officially removed all the hairpins that had been slowly working their way out, but her hair looked like a large bird had nested in it. She worked diligently at the knots she could see, but she could still feel a few in the back of her head. The makeup, which of course she hadn't removed from her face last night, had shifted and smeared to other parts of her face (and a little on Henry's pillows as well). The pillows had fought back to the best of their abilities, leaving a crease across one cheek. She lathered up the wash cloth and scrubbed. Her face came out blotchy red from the soap. The more she scrubbed away last night's makeup and foolishness, the redder it became, until she finally gave up. Her skin would never calm down if she didn't quit worrying it.
Having done as much as she could for now, Kitty determined not to look again in the mirror until she could get into her room and make a real improvement. How Henry had looked upon her and not teased her mercilessly or turned away in disgust was a mystery. She knew her own brothers would not have been kind.
Kitty exited the powder room and picked up her tray. The morning sun was still too bright so Kitty did not take her breakfast outside as she might have done, but avoided the windows and contented herself with the small table in the unlit kitchen. She looked about her for evidence of what had happened last night but Mrs. Harman had already tidied up any clues. Nothing jogged her memory. In the end, she just put her forehead down on the table and groaned softly.
She was hoping Henry would come out soon so she could ask him what had happened. She couldn't properly apologize without knowing the details.
It was Mr. Ashley who appeared first. Shuffling slowly, he joined her in the kitchen and mumbled a greeting while he poured himself a cup of coffee. After a bit he said, "Pardon me for saying so, Miss Morland, but you look like I feel."
He was not intentionally cruel like her brothers, but he had no idea how to talk to the opposite sex. It was a confirmation that everything had gone wrong.
"Mr. Ashley," she lamented, "won't you tell me what happened? I don't remember any of it."
"Really?" he asked with all the surprise he could muster. He handled the news with more aplomb than Henry had shown. "Well, I can only tell you the part I was there for. By the time we ran into each other, you were already pretty tipsy. I was out with some friends from work at The Hullabaloo when you came up to me and begged for assistance. I didn't understand you at first but it sounded like Eleanor -- Miss Tilney -- was in trouble. So of course I left my friends to help you. I know they'll quiz me about it on Monday, but it turned out she was just dancing. So I sat with you a bit, because you were still upset but you didn't want to dance, and you calmed down and explained why you and Miss Tilney were out--"
"The real reason?" Kitty interjected. Blabbermouths made horrible friends.
Mr. Ashley gave her a look of understanding over the rim of his mug. "Well, you kept going on about how you needed to get home by midnight. It was going to be a close call if you did, but Miss Tilney was still dancing. So you ordered me to cut in on her and bring her back to the table so you could leave. And I did just that, except she kept asking for another dance. 'Just one more song,' she kept saying. She can be quite persuasive." He had the sense to blush as he admitted this. Ellie might be an unstoppable force but she wouldn't be half as persuasive if he wasn't so in love with her.
"So I'd dance a few songs with her," he continued, "then walk her back to the table to check on you. You were quite worried, but when she told you that it wasn't even 11 o'clock yet, you simmered down and began to relax a little. She kept telling you that, every couple songs, until they announced last call. By then, of course, it was 2 a.m. and getting a cab was murder. We must not have gotten back here until three in the morning."
"Three in the morning!" Kitty wailed, then winced. She put her forehead back on the tables. Until that point in the narrative, she had thought they had been late by thirty minutes or an hour. Late, but forgivably so with a honest excuse. Three hours was not decent no matter how she dressed it.
No wonder Henry was angry with her. No wonder he had a talk with her when they had finally gotten home, explaining all the wrong things she had done: drinking more than she planned to the point she couldn't remember; going to three different bars; staying out all night long. He had probably been frantic with worry when they had finally come home. Of course he had given her a talking-to. And as much as she had deserved it, she had forgotten it. Oh, she was miserable!
"Yes," Mr. Ashley was not done with his tale. "Eleanor fell asleep in the car, so I carried her in and put her to bed while you settled our account with the driver. Then I collapsed on the nearest empty mattress. I'm afraid I'm not used to keeping such late hours."
Kitty sat and wallowed in her misery. And to top it all, after Henry had tried to mend the breach between them by bringing her a breakfast tray, she had probably made him cut himself shaving.
But when Henry came at last into the kitchen, Kitty could detect no sign of a nick on him. He was back to being perfectly impeccable. Had she felt better, she would have stood up and hugged him in relief. "Oh, Henry, I'm so glad to see you're all right! I was getting worried about you," she spoke fast to the point of babbling. "I deserved every awful thing you said to me last night, and I promise it will never happen again." In truth, she never expected to be allowed to take Ellie out alone again.
He eyed them both warily. "And what precisely are you apologizing for?"
It was a favorite tactic of authority, and Kitty hated it. It wasn't enough that she was sorry, but that she had to enumerate all the stupid things she had done to show that she had learned her lesson.
What could she do but reiterate everything that Mr. Ashley had said? "Mr. Henry--" she began meekly.
"Kitty!" He cut her off so sharply that Mr. Ashley looked up in disbelief. He closed his eyes and took a breath before he spoke more calmly. "Don't apologize until you can remember what you're sorry for. I'm going to scrape Ellie out of bed. We've got to pack."
He turned to his friend. "Howard, you're welcome to stay for breakfast but just barely. How you thought it a good idea to keep them both out so late is beyond me. And how you ended up in Ellie's bed--"
"It was a mistake, I swear! An honest mistake! I just put Eleanor in the first bedroom I found. And then, I realized that I was exhausted, and that Miss Morland had sent away the cab, so I crawled into the closest open bedroom. The next thing I know, it's morning. Henry, I swear to you on my grandmother's Bible that there was absolutely no funny business going on last night."
Henry did not speak, but drank his coffee and found it exceedingly bitter.
Howard Ashley stayed past lunch, taking the time to mend fences with Henry. The men had their discussion outside on the patio. Kitty would occasionally glance out at them, but the sun burned too brightly for her to watch for long.
Packing took all morning. Kitty's headache lingered and made everything take forever, and she treated herself to a little lie-down or similar reward at each self-imposed milestone.
It didn't help matters that she had more to put into her suitcase now than she had taken out of it at the start of the week. She had ruined a pair of Mavis' shoes and had replaced them with four new pairs from Woodston. She had a small clutch of postcards and restaurant matchbooks to serve as mementos. The biggest thing by far, however, was the dress Ellie had given her. There was simply no way to pack it and everything else without the gown becoming wrinkled beyond hope. It was too beautiful for such a fate, but she had not brought an extra suitcase to accommodate it.
After trying different configurations and folding tricks to no avail, she finally sought out Ellie for help. Ellie might not be able to give her an entire bag, but if Kitty could just put a portion of her things in something else, she could make it work.
Ellie unfortunately, was in the same boat. She had brought more bags than Kitty, leaving space in New York so she could fill it with memories of California, but she had also bought more trinkets and clothes during her lunch dates with Morris Fielding.
The girls surveyed their mutual dilemma before dissolving into giggles. "Come on," said Ellie. "Let's go find Henry. He might have an extra bag stashed away here that we can borrow."
They cornered the men outside. Although it was creeping up to midday, the sun seemed less intense than earlier; perhaps it was an effect of the clouds.
"Henry," Ellie broke in, "you must lend us a suitcase. Kitty and I have too much to pack into the ones we brought with us."
Her brother scoffed at the notion. "You're joking. You had enough space to bring your things to California." He turned to Kitty. "How is it possible when I never saw you buy anything larger than a postcard, and you've already mailed half of them?"
"She got an armful of free shoes from Woodston," said Ellie. "Plus, I bought her a new dress to wear when we went out Thursday." She became more serious as she said it, but whether it was because of how Mr. Fielding had treated her, or of how she let herself be treated, Kitty couldn't say. "Help us out, Henry."
"Perhaps I can ship some of it, if you like," offered Mr. Ashley. "That is, if you won't need it right away."
"I don't think I'll have immediate use for an evening gown in New York," Kitty was not ashamed to admit. She couldn't imagine ever having an excuse to wear anything so fine, and there was nothing else large enough to make a difference that she wouldn't need her first week back.
But Ellie would not allow such a sacrifice. "Oh no, Kitty! I'm sure Mr. Ashley means well but the dress would be ruined by the time you unpacked it again. You have to take it with you." She took a thoughtful turn. "But I don't suppose I'll ever wear my dress from Thursday again. Now, everyone, you mustn't look at me with such pity. Morris Fielding was a cad of the first order and unfortunately he was just what I deserved."
Mr. Ashley started to say something consoling but a stern throat-clearing from Henry silenced him. Henry had apparently caught onto Mr. Ashley's crush.
"Why don't you leave the dress here," suggested Henry at last. "The old man let you come once. So long as he never hears of Morris Fielding, he might do it again."
Ellie squealed and hugged her brother in spontaneous delight, then hugged the other two in an abundance of joy. She chattered about leaving not just one dress but two so she would have enough room for Kitty's gown.
The crisis averted, the girls finished packing. Kitty's beautiful dress was safely folded into one of Ellie's cases, and two of Ellie's dresses stood in her closet waiting for her return to California.
As morning slipped away, Kitty began to feel reluctant to leave California. When Kitty had left Wiltshire for Madison, it had been so frightening that she very nearly didn't go; to leave her home, the only life she had ever known for such a bustling metropolis was a monumental task. When she had moved from Madison to New York City had been scary, too, but her brother already lived there giving her the mistaken notion that her vision of success would be easy. But if Madison had been a rude awakening, then New York was downright vulgar, and until Kitty had befriended Mavis Allen in the Northanger mailroom, she had been very lonely indeed.
California had not been without its bad memories. It had only been a week, but so much had happened that there was bound to be such moments. But one or both of the Tilneys had anchored her through it. They were now going home with her to New York. Well, it was not Kitty's home, not quite, not yet. But with such friends, and with Mavis and Jimmy, it would not be long until she truly considered it home.
Mr. Ashley's leave-taking was prolonged. He made something like a speech of how much he had enjoyed meeting Miss Tilney and Miss Morland, how he hoped they'd had a good time, and how he wished he might see them again someday. He concluded with apologies for his role in keeping them out too late last night as they were all feeling the ill effects today.
Ellie would hear of no real regrets. "You mustn't be sorry, dear Mr. Ashley," she was quick to correct him. "If you hadn't turned up, I don't know what would have happened to us, for I was too tipsy to listen to Kitty and Kitty was too tipsy to force me home."
"And yet you still didn't leave until they closed the bar," Henry pointed out, nonplussed.
"Well, he was instrumental in keeping us entertained while we waited for a taxi," Ellie countered, unwilling to concede.
"Which would not have been a problem had you confined yourselves to two drinks and got home before midnight."
This seemed like as good a cue as any to apologize, so Kitty did.
Henry looked like he was going to criticize again, but he changed his mind at the last moment. "No more shots for you, ever," he warned her instead. "None for either of you," he included Ellie.
Ellie looked ready to argue what right her brother had to make such a decision but prudence got the better of her. What Henry lacked in authority he made up for in access to the old man and first-hand knowledge of Morris Fielding. Henry wasn't ruthless as a rule, but he didn't have to be with a father like Thomas Tilney.
Kitty, on the other hand, had already decided to avoid another night like the one she just had. As she was not contrary by nature, and as her resolve was already aligned with his proclamation, she had no temptation to oppose her boss.Continued In Next Section