Posted on 2014-07-21
A grande dame of old New York met them as they exited their plane. She was decked out in her Sunday attire, which meant that her dress was subdued enough for church but fancy enough for tea at the Waldorf. Or at least Kitty supposed so, never having been there herself.
The family resemblance was striking; this woman was obviously a Tilney or, more likely, a Northanger. From her apparent age, she was probably their grandmother. Kitty no longer wondered why her two friends so little resembled their father. But it was more than her bone structure that signalled a family tie. She was old, she was gray, but she was flawless just as Henry was perpetually impeccable. Kitty realized that Ellie had traces of it too, this natural grace, but it was incompatible to display with youth. This regalness was the result of not just the labor to achieve but also the discipline to maintain.
Behind her, a man stood solemnly. His clothes were subdued also, but in a different way. Kitty had lived on Pulteney Street long enough to recognise his uniform as that of a servant.
Ellie saw her grandmother and rushed to meet her, nearly throwing her arms around the old woman's neck before checking herself just in time.
"Gran!" she cried. "You came for us!" She gave a sedate hug as fellow passengers flowed past.
Henry stepped forward and planted a kiss on a wrinkled cheek. "Hello, Gran. It's good to see you again."
"Eleanor, Henry," said Mrs. Northanger, adjusting her stole with a touch after Ellie had set it slightly askew. "And who is this?" she asked of Kitty who stood just outside their cozy family circle.
Kitty did not know whether to curtsy or offer to shake hands. Ellie settled the matter by looping her arm around Kitty's, preventing her from doing either. "This is Kitty, Gran. Kitty Morland."
Mrs. Northanger looked her up and down, leaving her feeling weighed and measured. The overnight flight had left her rumpled and out of sorts. She had been too tired not to sleep on the plane, but she had slept poorly, her headache from Saturday had resurfaced, and her sense of night and day was all turned upside down again. The light streaming in through the windows was at odds with the knowledge that she ought to be in bed.
Kitty didn't know whether to smooth her skirt or her hair first, but she could do neither unobtrusively. Instead, she stood and shuffled her feet slightly, feeling certain she should do something but having no idea what.
"Miss Morland, you're not quite what I was expecting." Mrs. Northanger inclined her head slightly. Kitty had been found wanting.
"Gran," Henry chastened softly.
The old woman was not penitent. "Your father described her in very different terms," she stated simply. "It does not follow that I'm disappointed to find you dissimilar from his sketch. The man has no idea what young people are like. I'm sure you're all eager to get home and freshen up. Come and give your luggage tickets to Milton so he can collect them. Brunch is waiting for us."
Kitty saw this as her sign to part with her friends. She started to tell Mrs. Northanger that it was a pleasure to meet her but the old woman stopped her.
"You are coming with us, of course. Unless your family is expecting you home right away?"
"My parents aren't in New York," she said, "but Mavis..." This gave Kitty pause. Was Mavis even at home now to let her in?
"Mavis?" repeated Ellie's grandmother. "Do you have a sister, Miss Morland?"
"Mavis is Kitty's roommate," Ellie explained.
The old woman nearly harrumphed. "In my day, a girl did not leave the bosom of her family until she moved into her husband's establishment."
Kitty didn't know what to say to that except she didn't want to spend the rest of her life on a farm. Luckily for her, Henry responded first.
"That was two world wars ago. Times have changed. Women's suffrage is the law of the land now. You can't give girls a voice in who runs the country and expect them not to assume some autonomy over their own lives."
From the set of Mrs. Northanger's mouth, Kitty did not think this was a way to earn her affection, or even tolerance. The woman sniffed haughtily and turned to Kitty.
"I trust, Miss Morland, that you do not encourage my grandson to run his mouth in this fashion."
"No, ma'am," she responded automatically. It had not occurred to Kitty that she had the authority to encourage or discourage Henry in any way.
Mrs. Northanger seemed to attach Kitty to herself as they left LaGuardia. The old woman asked discreet questions about the trip to California and Kitty's parents during the drive. She was not deliberately prying, not apparently so, but by the time the car pulled in front of the Tilneys' townhouse, Kitty had started talking about her grandparents' cabin on Mitten Lake where her extended family gathered each summer. The place was too small to hold everyone at once -- there were far too many Morlands for that -- but her father and uncles and aunts each had a week or two when they were expected to bring their families.
They went their separate ways to freshen up when they arrived. The girls went to Ellie's room to wash their faces and brush their hair, and otherwise make themselves presentable for brunch.
"Are you sure I'm not imposing?" Kitty asked for the umpteenth time.
"Absolutely," Ellie replied. "Believe me, Gran has ways of not inviting someone if she doesn't want them around. She likes you."
Kitty was unconvinced. "How can you tell?" she wanted to know.
"You're just the sort of girl she likes," said Ellie. "She's forever rattling on about a quiet, sweet, pretty girl who... who's just like you." She smiled as if she didn't quite understand it.
Kitty wanted to say something, to affirm that Mrs. Northanger loved Ellie despite not having a retiring temperament, but Ellie spoke again before she could find the words.
"I think we look good enough to pass muster. Let's go before my stomach starts growling!"
The thought of anyone related to Mrs. Northanger doing anything so undignified made Kitty laugh. She was still smiling as the two walked into an informal dining room where Henry and his grandmother were already waiting.
The girls' arrival had interrupted a private conversation between the other two, but Mrs. Northanger deserted Henry with a pat on his hand to step forward and offer a second, warmer greeting.
"Ah, there you are. I see you are looking much better now. Flying is so unnatural, I don't know how those pilots do it day after day."
"Don't let Dick hear you say that, Gran," teased Henry.
Mrs. Northanger didn't exactly make a face. "Richard delights in tormenting me," she announced. "And your father as well."
"Speaking of," inserted Ellie, "where are they? I thought Daddy would pick us up."
She definitely made a moue now. "Richard got up to his usual antics while you were gone, and things came to a head this morning. Thomas started to lecture him, but your father cannot have a delicate conversation on an indelicate subject, so I sent them both out of the house until they are fit for mixed company again. You must forgive us, Miss Morland, for being so topsy-turvy this morning. I'm sure my grandson will settle down admirably once he marries the right woman." With a glance at Henry, she added, "Both my grandsons."
Henry had been standing straight before, but he seemed to grow taller and pinker at that remark. Kitty felt for him; this was not the only grandparent in the world to make such an embarrassing statement.
It was not the last cause for Henry to blush or wince. His grandmother seemed determined to describe him as quite a catch as far as New York measured it. And when she wasn't volunteering information, she was soliciting Kitty's opinion on whether Henry was a good host or if his house in California was as charming as he had described. He quickly abandoned all effort to check his grandmother as it was clearly without effect.
Ellie watched in confusion as Gran highlighted Henry's good qualities. This went beyond simple praise and grandmotherly pride into an unfamiliar territory. She caught herself staring intently at Kitty, trying to gauge her reaction.
Kitty, for her part, read nothing into it. There were no longer any hopes to raise, and she could listen without a blush.
Afternoon advanced. The table was cleared and the four adjourned to a salon. Prompted by a yawn from Ellie, Kitty wondered at the time. A mantle clock had the answer: it was nearly three in the afternoon.
"Oh no!" exclaimed Kitty. "I need to get back home." Mavis was surely wondering what had happened to her, and Kitty felt she had trespassed on the Tilneys' hospitality long enough.
Mrs. Northanger showed no sign of growing tired of her company, however, and pressed her to stay longer.
"Thank you for the offer, ma'am, but I cannot," said Kitty. "I am sure Mavis will get worried if I stay away. Besides, I need to unpack and get ready for work tomorrow."
Mrs. Northanger could not disagree with Kitty's reasons, as distasteful as she found them, so she excused the girls to Ellie's room where their suitcases had been delivered.
In the privacy of the bedroom, Kitty spoke. "Your Gran is very..."
"I don't know what's gotten into her," said Ellie with a touch of exasperation. "She's never like that. I don't understand it." She opened up a trunk and removed Kitty's new gown.
"Maybe she is just exaggerating Henry's good points to contrast with Capt. Tilney's recent behavior." Kitty had been able to listen without feeling any awkwardness for her own sake, but she noticed it for Henry's.
Ellie wasn't convinced. While Dick's wrong-doing explained some of it, there had to be more to it than just that. She closed the trunk with a sigh; the answers were not to be found within.
"I'm sorry Kitty," said Ellie as she fished an empty garment bag from her closet for transporting the pink gown to Pulteney Street. "What you must think of us!"
"You all seem very normal to me," said Kitty. She had a large and extensive family. Once one got past the sameness within a family, the individual members were each very different. Once one got past the differences between two families, they looked very similar. Besides, Kitty was not inclined to find fault.
Ellie finished putting the new dress into the garment bag. She would have called for a maid to carry Kitty's bags to the door where Milton was waiting but Kitty balked at the idea. An entire week with a housekeeper had not given her airs, so the two carried the bags themselves to the entry hall.
Mrs. Northanger was waiting to wish Kitty goodbye and state how welcome Kitty would be to visit again soon. When Mr. Milton relieved the two friends of their burdens, Kitty finally shook hands with the matriarch and thanked her for her hospitality.
She looked about. "Is Henry..." Kitty didn't quite know what she was asking. "Shall I just see him in the office tomorrow?" After spending so long in his company, it was strange to be parted from him without a farewell, even if it was for less than a full day.
"He is waiting for you outside, Miss Morland," explained Mrs. Northanger, walking to the door.
With that weight off Kitty's shoulders, she hugged and kissed Ellie, and reminded her of the cinema on Tuesday night. It would be strange not spending the next two evenings with Ellie either, but she had things she needed to do with Mavis, not the least of which was finding a new place to live.
Henry was indeed outside waiting by the car. He opened the door for her as she approached while Mr. Milton secured her luggage in the trunk.
"You're driving me home?" she asked.
"Yes," he said, "if that's all right with you. I'm well accustomed to chauffeuring you around by now."
She tried not to grin stupidly, but it was hard. With a nod, she stepped in and he shut the door behind her.
Quick as a wink, he was sitting beside her, starting the motor. "Straight home to Pulteney Street, Miss Morland, or do you have errands to run first?" he asked in a voice she realized was a good imitation of Mr. Milton.
"Mr. Tilney!" she said in response to his teasing formality, then sighed. "I suppose I should start calling you Mr. Henry now that we are back in New York."
"Save it for the office," he recommended as he pulled away from the curb. "And I promise now to forgive any slip-ups, which means I hope to extract a matching promise from you. Heaven knows what I'm going to say when I see you tomorrow." He chuckled and Kitty joined in.
"I'm sure you'll say precisely the right thing," she told him, fighting a blush. Now was the wrong time to notice how much better he looked clean-shaven. She needed a new subject of conversation. "Your Gran was very friendly," she tried.
Henry frowned through a turn. "Yes," he agreed. "Excessively so. I hope it didn't bother you."
"You forget I come from a large family. I thought she was very sweet."
"Eleanor Northanger is not sweet," he corrected her, his eyes fixed on the road. "But she will be tickled to hear you say so."
Kitty didn't have a response to that.
"I shall miss you terribly at breakfast tomorrow morning," Henry said after a pause. "The old man is never good company that early. All he wants is his coffee and his paper."
Kitty looked askance. "But that's all we ever did at breakfast. How is it any different?"
"The old man needs absolute silence," he said with a small shudder. "It's funereal. Can you imagine it?"
Upon reflection, she couldn't. Reading select bits of the newspaper articles aloud to each other had been immensely enjoyable. She felt on the whole smarter for listening to the snatches of news from sections of the paper she wouldn't read on her own. "But I love it when you do the voices," she said. Henry had a habit of playacting with his news.
"Precisely," he agreed. "And that is why I shall miss you. If I try that with the old man, he'll send me to the kitchen."
She laughed in spite of herself.
"Breakfast won't be a problem for me, so long as I can figure out how to get out of bed tomorrow," she said. "My head is so confused. If feels like noon but it looks like early evening."
"Remember this: early to bed tonight and be awake in time to watch the sunrise. And if that fails, drink plenty of coffee."
In no time at all, the car pulled up to the curb in front of the Hudsons' house. The ride was over. It was time for goodbye. She fumbled with the door latch.
"Let me get that," he told her.
"I can do it myself," she reminded them both. She was re-entering her regular world, and needed to recover her independence. She had no housekeeper or maid to clean her rooms and clothes, no butler or chauffeur to open doors or carry heavy things for her. If she needed chores done, she'd have to do them herself.
"Yes, but Gran will ask if I minded my manners. Don't let me disappoint her. She can be quite fierce when crossed."
Kitty sighed and folded her hands in her lap, resigned to be waited on one more time.
Henry started at the trunk, removing her bags and setting them down on the stoop. He was comical to watch because he intended to be. Then he came to her door and opened it with a flourish. He pulled her gently out and tucked her hand against his elbow for the short flight of steps to the front door.
Instead of knocking for Mavis, he turned to her. "Did you enjoy your time in California?" he asked.
"Yes, of course," she said. "Far more than I expected to, despite everything. If Mr. Tilney wants me to go again, I won't complain."
"I'm glad, and," he paused, looking uncertain. "And Friday night..."
Kitty could not be reminded of that night without feeling a wave of regret. "I'm very sorry about that, Henry, but if I could remember all that had happened, I'd probably be too mortified to speak to you again."
He laughed nervously. "Let us avoid that fate."
She could probably stand there all evening with him, saying inconsequential nothings, but she needed to release him. They both had their homes to get back to, and she would see him again in the morning.
"Goodbye Henry." She stuck out her hand. It felt awkward to part with a handshake, but she didn't know what else she could get away with.
Looking far less at ease than usual, he ignored her proffered hand. "I know you don't --" He faltered.
When she realized he wasn't going to continue, she looked up at him. His face was pale, his eyes darted about nervously, and Kitty had a horrible flashback to Thursday evening. "Henry, are you all right?" He looked as un-Henry-like as she had ever seen him.
He sighed deeply and seemed to screw up his courage. Instead of answering her, he reached up and brushed back some of her hair. She had worn it down and loose for the flight, and it was now an easy victim for every stray breeze.
The action made her think not of Miss Corwyn, but of her words: that Henry must indeed feel more for her than she merited as the friend of his sister. It was a lovely story, rooted in fairy tale rather than reality, but lovely all the same.
He did it again, this time tucking the hair behind her ear before resting his hand on the back of her neck and pulling her forward into a kiss.
Posted on 2014-07-24
Henry Tilney kissed her. Was there ever anything so grand?
When it was over, he looked at her with a sly grin, all his confidence returned, all nervousness vanished. "I hope this is a first kiss worth remembering."
Kitty wanted to frown. Had he really kissed so many girls that he couldn't keep track of them all? Or was this an oblique reference to Morris Fielding? Did he really need to make her think of such a thing, now or ever?
But the memorable first kiss was followed by a second, then a third. By the time Kitty lost count, she couldn't begrudge him anything.
They stood on the stoop for a while, not really saying anything but grinning like fools in love. With each gust of wind, he swept her hair away and kissed her again. They could have stayed there all night but Mavis eventually opened the door and greeted them both with such loud and false innocence that Kitty realized she must have caught sight of them earlier.
It was embarrassing, but Kitty felt no remorse, nor Henry either if his bonhomie was any indication. He was more charming than ever, to the point of sparkling. He chatted briefly with Mavis before she invited him in. This only served to remind them both that he needed to get back to his family. With a smile of regret, Henry shook hands with Mavis and kissed Kitty on the cheek before skipping down the steps and into his car.
Kitty stood outside and waved until the car disappeared at the corner. When she turned around to face Mavis, she could see she wasn't getting out of this situation quietly.
"So?" Mavis inquired.
"So," Kitty repeated. "Can I get a hand with my luggage?"
Mavis looked like that help was going to come at a steep price but Kitty was going to pay it regardless of whether Mavis lifted a finger.
"So what were you doing with Henry Tilney?" Mavis asked as they walked through the house to Kitty's room in the servants' quarters.
Kitty blushed but didn't speak. Wasn't it obvious what she had been doing?
"Are you telling me you've been in California with the boss's son for an entire week of that?"
"No!" Kitty whirled around. She was adamant. "No, absolutely not! That was the first time he has ever kissed me, right there at the front door."
"An entire week alone with him and he makes his move now?" Mavis was skeptical.
"We weren't alone," Kitty reminded her. "His sister was with us in the evenings, and we spent most of the day at the Woodston offices. There wasn't really an opportunity for it."
"Men can find opportunities," Mavis said. "If they really want something, they can make opportunities. They're very resourceful like that." Where was this wisdom when Thorpe was Kitty's boss?
Kitty was glad Henry wasn't the type to force fate. In fact, as she reflected upon it, he had been nervous before kissing her, uncertain of his reception. And what would he have done if she had rejected him? What would they have done at Northanger Federated tomorrow, had it gone awry?
Her steps slowed to a halt before her bedroom door. What were they going to do at Northanger Federated tomorrow, now that it hadn't gone awry?
They had kissed. Just kissed. There had been no conversation, no plans. Nothing was resolved or even discussed between them. What did it mean? Henry had no reputation of chasing secretaries. Ellie had assured her that he didn't lead women on, even to the point of giving them no encouragement whatsoever. So what did it mean that he had kissed her? He was her boss, for pity's sake!
In a flash of insight, she thought over vignettes from the past week, times when Henry had tried to express more than the detached interest their professional relationship required, or the big brotherly concern warranted as the friend to his sister. He had attempted to make her understand how worried he had been when she had hidden herself on Wednesday night. What had he said? What were his exact words? You are incredibly valuable to me. I care about you deeply. At the time, she believed he had been talking about her short-hand and the number of words per minute she could type. But now, it was easy to imagine he had been talking about something more. And he had slugged Morris Fielding for kissing her, she recalled with a smile. And he had said that he trusted her. And he had let her drag everyone to the movies even though they had already seen the film. And he had danced with her and flirted with her to the point that even Ellie had noticed.
"Keep moving!" snapped Mavis, breaking into her reverie.
Kitty moved with alacrity, entering her room and leaving space enough for Mavis to follow.
"You're going to want to see that," said Kitty, indicating the garment bag that Mavis had carried. Her friend laid it out on the bed and unzipped it. As expected, she shrieked with delight when she saw it.
'Oh my goodness!" she gasped, pulling it out and holding it up to her chest before waltzing to the mirror over Kitty's vanity table. "It's beautiful. Did Mr. Henry buy this for you?"
"No!" Kitty was quick to correct her. If Mavis continued to believe their relationship had begun much sooner, this would certainly lead to trouble. "Ellie bought it for me." Kitty had no intention of explaining exactly why Ellie had bought it. The less said about Morris Fielding, the better. But she needed some explanation of why a friend of such short duration would spend that amount of money on Kitty. "We went out for a special night and she bought herself a new dress, then she had to buy one for me too, so her brother wouldn't get too upset."
Mavis only shook her head, her eyes still fixed on her reflection. "And to think you met her before me. Life is so unfair."
"And I ruined a pair of your shoes," Kitty confessed. She might as well get this over with too.
"You did what?"
"Don't worry," said Kitty as she unzipped her suitcase. "The executives as Woodston Women's Clothing were so eager for this deal, they gave me four free pairs of shoes. The only stipulation is that we wear them to drum up interest among the other girls."
"We?" Of course Mavis would notice that pronoun.
"Of course we. You don't believe I would hoard them all to myself after you've been so generous to me? Plus, as I said, I ruined a pair while we were out dancing. Some guy got a little too fresh and I broke the heel trying to crush his instep." Again, she was careful not to mention Morris Fielding by name.
By now, she had begun pulling pairs of shoes out of her case. Mavis gingerly set aside the gown and began oohing and ahing over the pretty heels that Kitty had picked out.
"I figure you can have two of the pairs," Kitty told her. "I'll let you have first pick."
Mavis made her choices quickly, then fell to indecision and began to second guess herself. She started to swap out the pair of black dancing shoes for the silver ones when she stopped. "If only we could both get into the same apartment, I wouldn't have to decide!" she exclaimed in frustration. "Just as soon as you get clothes and shoes worth sharing, we have to split up. Life just isn't fair!"
"I told you, you can have two pairs of shoes," Kitty repeated. "One to make up for the pair that I wrecked, and one for being such a good friend."
Mavis grimaced and settled on the silver shoes. "I can still borrow the black ones, you know. And I will."
Having finalized her choices for the time being, she was able to grill Kitty on California and Henry Tilney until it was time for bed.
Kitty floated into Northanger Federated the next morning.
She had been up at the sunrise, and it had left her exhausted. After answering Mavis' many questions, Kitty had been able to ask a few of her own about the apartment situation. There were three options available to them, all on the same block. Mavis had arranged to have lunch with the girls in one of the apartments on Monday, and dinner with another apartment's worth of girls Monday night. Mavis was disinclined to consider the third trio as one of the girls had a reputation for borrowing without asking permission. Ideally, she and Kitty would meet the other two sets on Monday and figure out between them which apartment was better suited to each of them.
Mavis had spent a good bit of time reviewing what she knew of each girl -- what department they worked in, where they came from, what they spent their money on, and what their dress and shoe sizes were. It was a lot for Kitty to take in, and she had spent the night tossing and turning as she considered the recent upheavals in her life.
The most significant upheaval was of course Henry Tilney. Was that right? Was an upheaval always negative? If so, she certainly hoped he wasn't one.
Exiting the elevator on the executive floor, she wound her way to the waiting room outside the chairman's office. Her desk, sitting next to Miss Girard's, looked foreign to her. Then she giggled at herself. She had sat here for less than two weeks, so perhaps it made sense to find it strange after a week in California. She was just about to put away her hat and purse when Miss Girard walked in with Henry's appointment book.
"Miss Morland!" Miss Girard was a little surprised. "I didn't expect you so early."
Kitty smiled and stifled a yawn. "I think Mr. Henry is expecting me to be on time today." She couldn't help smiling as she said it although she didn't explain why. "I'm going to need lots of coffee to make it through the morning."
"Someone just put on a fresh pot. I could smell it brewing," Miss Girard offered. "And here's Mr. Henry's book. I kept track of it while you were out, but I'll be glad to hand it over to you again."
Kitty flipped through to today. After being out all week, his day was full, starting with a private debriefing with his father.
She spent the next quarter-hour getting settled and having that first cup of coffee. Then she heard them -- or, rather, heard the old man -- coming down the hall. He was in a foul temper from the sound of it.
"Five minutes, Miss Girard," he scowled as he went past and slammed his door behind him.
"Two minutes, Miss Morland." Henry smiled at her and she could feel herself light up. If they were supposed to keep this a secret, he needed to stop smiling at her.
She barely kept her seat while the minute hand crept by. She had no idea where things stood between them, if they were publicly or secretly seeing each other, or anything at all. Yet she wanted to see him again, be in the same room as him. She supposed she could ask him what exactly they were doing, but she had a feeling she would just stare at him dopily until it was time for his first meeting.
Realizing how dangerously unproductive that was, she used the remaining minute to pull herself together, vowing to keep her head on straight and to keep her behavior as professional as possible. After all, she had always had a crush on him yet it had never gotten in the way of work before. Now should not be any different.
When her time was up, she calmly grabbed his appointment book and walked into his office, shutting the door behind her.
He had been expecting her. As soon as the door was closed, he rose up from his desk and drew her into his arms for a kiss.
"As predicted," he told her, "I missed you at breakfast. The old man was an absolute bear."
"Henry!" she whispered. Miss Girard was still sitting just outside the office, after all. "We're supposed to be working!"
"Do you think we should lock the door?"
"I think we shouldn't have a reason to lock the door," she told him flatly.
His mouth twitched in disagreement but he settled for a peck on her cheek before releasing her. "So when do I get to see you today when we are not supposed to be working?"
Kitty glanced at his schedule but she already knew the answer. "You don't, not today." She was just as disappointed as he was.
"What's wrong with lunch?" he asked, taking the book from her hands to see for himself.
"You are eating with Mr. Richard."
Henry scoffed. "Odds are, Dick will run into a pretty face on the way there and forget he even has a brother, much less an appointment with me. Come to lunch with me instead. He won't notice."
It was tempting, but she couldn't. "Mavis and I are meeting some girls from an apartment for lunch today."
"I suppose that leaves dinner," he said, noting that his scheduled day stopped at five o'clock.
Again, Kitty had to disappoint both of them. "We're meeting another apartment of girls for dinner," she told him glumly. "I'm sorry, Henry. We just need to figure out where we're going to be living before we end up in the street. But don't worry; it will all be sorted by the weekend."
"Are you telling me I have to wait until the weekend to kiss you again?" He was incredulous.
That wasn't what she was saying at all, and after she proved it to him, she pointed out, "Tuesday night is our movie night."
"Yes," he remembered. "Ellie told me she was going out with you already, which means that you won't be able to go out with me."
"It was never the rule that fellows couldn't come," Kitty told him. "It's just that we never asked one who said, 'yes' before. My brother wouldn't be caught dead going to the movies with me."
"You can be terribly forward at times, you know that?" Henry didn't mind at all. He smiled at her until she felt herself grow warm. Had she just asked him out to the movies? "It's a date," he confirmed it. "Speaking of, Ellie knows about us. Gran too, and from the looks of it, Mavis as well."
Here was an opening Kitty had to take. "What does Ellie know?" She was not bold enough to ask outright what it all meant.
"Just that you kissed me and I'm besotted."
"I kissed you?" Kitty repeated, trying to keep her voice down. "Henry, that's not what happened at all. You've got it all turned around."
"Do I?" he laughed. "How could I have forgotten? Does that make you the besotted one?"
She opened her mouth to protest but no sound came out. He only laughed harder.
"We shall have to share the title then. That's the only course that makes any sense." He took her hand and kissed it.
He did not release her hand, but looked at it and grew serious. "One person I haven't told yet is my father. He will not be pleased."
She suspected this already but there was no victory in a lucky guess.
"I don't know what trouble Dick got into, but the old man was so sore that I couldn't bring it up this morning. Let me tell him tonight," he said, "and be prepared for a bumpy Tuesday for both of us. He'll throw a tantrum, all sound and fury, but it will signify nothing."
She nodded. There was no way they could expect to keep this from Mr. Tilney for long, working so near him that they were practically under his nose. To be honest, Kitty didn't want to; it felt dishonest to hide it, whatever 'it' was.
"You have a nine-thirty with your father, by the way," she said. "To go over the latest with Woodston."
Henry groaned and kissed her hand again. "Let us hope Susan sits in with us. I don't think I can pay proper attention to him with you in the room."
It was not to be. Mr. Tilney had apparently spent the weekend concocting work for Miss Girard. She was in a flurry of activity when Kitty finally emerged from Henry's office.
"There you are, Miss Morland," she said, flustered, as papers scattered about her desk. "I need you to watch the phones while I run downstairs for Mr. Tilney. I won't be back before the nine-thirty, so you'll need to sit in on it. And I may need you to keep your lunch-hour free, just in case."
Kitty had to protest this as she already had very important lunch plans. Miss Girard frowned but she was too preoccupied to argue. Soon, she gathered an armful of files and disappeared in the direction of the elevators.
At nine-thirty, Kitty dutifully reported to Mr. Tilney's private office. Henry entered right behind her and by unspoken agreement, they did not look at each other.
The first ninety minutes were merely Henry trying to recite what had transpired last week at Woodston while his father interrupted with demands for more detail. Kitty's mind drifted while her hand scribbled the notes.
After the meeting broke up, Kitty went back to her desk to transcribe her shorthand. It was nothing but a condensed version of the notes she had taken during the previous week, arranged more coherently and concisely than they had originally come to pass.
Henry went back to his private office where he remained for a half hour on various phone calls before going off to meet his brother. As he passed by, he gave a little knock on Kitty's desk, and while she didn't meet his eye, she couldn't stop her feet from tapping as she wished him a pleasant lunch.
Miss Girard scurried to and fro, disappearing with one stack of papers and reappearing with a collection of folders.
"What does he have you working on?" Kitty wondered as Miss Girard sank wearily into her seat. "You've been going non-stop all morning long."
Miss Girard blew out an exhausted sigh. "I'll be glad when today is over." She smiled at Kitty then stopped herself. Her phone rang and she jumped in her seat. She answered it with a, "Yes, Mr. Tilney."
After a brief monologue from the chairman, she hung up.
"Miss Morland, would you take this file to Mr. Tilney?" She held out a manilla folder. The morning had worn her down.
Kitty glanced at the clock on the wall. She didn't need to meet Mavis in the Northanger cafeteria for another twenty minutes. It would be the work of a moment to bring it to Mr. Tilney, and Miss Girard certainly looked like she could use a hand.
She took the folder from the other secretary and walked back into the lion's den.
After a short, gentle knock, she entered. Mr. Tilney was finishing another call. He glared at her for intruding but didn't speak a word to her as he replaced the receiver.
She felt the same old menace that she had felt around Thorpe. With Henry in the room for the morning's meeting, there had been warmth and humor. With him gone, it was cold and severe. Suddenly Kitty felt the importance of finishing her task quickly and returning to the safety of her desk next to Miss Girard.
"You wanted this file, Mr. Tilney?" She hurried forward and set it on the corner of his desk.
Before she had retreated to the door, he called out to her. "Miss Morland, are you not curious to know what this is?"
She faced him and shook her head politely, hoping he would not engage her in conversation. He had always been intimidating to her, even when he was trying to be friendly.
"It's your personnel file," he told her. "I had Miss Girard retrieve it from downstairs. Are you still incurious?" He opened it and flipped through the slim collection of pages.
"Let us not beat around the bush," he announced, removing the papers within and closing the folder with a slap. "Miss Morland, you are fired, effective immediately."
Posted on 2014-07-28
Kitty stared at Mr. Tilney, trying to make sense of what she was hearing, but it was hard to understand what he was saying over the buzzing in her ears. Was she really being fired a second time from the same position in the same company in less than a month?
Despite his claim not to beat around the bush, he was still talking. "Security will be here in fifteen minutes to escort you from the building. You are banned from ever returning. Should you attempt it, should I see you or hear you in or around my domain, should you even think about contacting my son or daughter again, I will take it as a personal threat and will do everything in my power to protect what is mine."
He paused to light a cigar. Kitty stood there with her heart in her throat, fighting for speech, fighting for breath.
"I don't know how you did it, child, but I don't abide shysters. You've got some nerve even attempting it." Before his match burned down, he used the fire to light a corner of her personnel forms. They both watched as the paper flamed brightly before degrading to a dull char. Her brief history at Northanger turned to ash before her eyes. He held onto it as long as he could before dropping it into his ash tray.
"What did I -- ?" Kitty choked on the words.
"Your brother, James, and your friend, Miss Allen," he spoke in warning. "I'll let them stay here so long as you never bother me again. Cross me in this, and I'll make sure the three of you never again find a respectable job in New York or in the entire civilized world."
She thought she was going to faint. She reached out to the wall for support. This was not a prank. Cruel as it was, this was no joke. Henry was away, having lunch with his brother. He would be gone for another hour at least, imagining that she was dining on a tuna salad sandwich with Mavis and others. By the time he returned, she would be long gone.
"Sit down before you fall down." she took the command as advice and she shakily collapsed into a chair. "I know how these cons work, Miss Morland. You're not the first to target a family like mine, but a fancy address and some fancy clothes will only carry you so far."
He picked up a small fold of papers on his desk. They hadn't been there when Kitty had walked in. They must have been inside her file before he burned it. He held up one of the papers. "This ticket is for a bus that leaves this evening. The fare is paid through to the hometown listed in your file. I want you to be on it. This is non-negotiable, Miss Morland. Your brother and Miss Allen depend upon it. Do you understand?"
She nodded weakly.
He ran his pen over the second slip of paper and held it up with a flourish. "And this is your last paycheck and your severance, post-dated for Friday. Get away from my family, stay away, and you can cash it."
With that, he put the check into an envelope and signalled Miss Girard on his intercom. "Tell Thorpe I'm on my way." He leaned back in his chair and stared at her, visibly annoyed that she was still there. "Miss Morland, you are dismissed."
It took all her energy to stand. The distance to the door looked insurmountable. Then Kitty realized the bus ticket was waiting for her on Mr. Tilney's desk. She lurched forward and snatched up the paper. She fled the room before her vision completely filled with tears. He followed, sedate and unconcerned. As he passed by, he dropped the envelope containing her severance check onto her desk.
Miss Girard had looked up as Kitty came out and then dropped her head guiltily. Susan Girard was not responsible for Kitty's treatment, but she had been the one who ran the errands for Mr. Tilney, doing his bidding and preparing for this moment while he had sat in his office with his son and Kitty all morning.
Kitty thought anew of Henry's sense of betrayal when Miss Girard had chosen his father over him. Her loyalty had never been in question, so why did it take Kitty by surprise?
There was no time to hide in the ladies' room and dry her eyes. She had at most ten minutes to gather her things. In a facsimile of kindness, Miss Girard had saved a small cardboard box from the mailroom and had it sitting on Kitty's chair, ready for her to dump her small collection of mementos and knickknacks into it.
Miss Girard cleared her throat for attention. "Miss Morland," she spoke haltingly. "If you need a letter of recommendation..." She pulled a freshly typed sheet of paper from her Remington.
Kitty took it from her and dumped it into the trash bin without a word. The more she moved, the more things she put into her box, the more violently her hands shook. It had been maneouvered so flawlessly -- from arranging to have Henry out of the office, to destroying her employment records, to ensuring and hastening her departure -- that it overwhelmed her. She sat down at her desk and cried.
In an act witnessed by no one, security guards had escorted Kitty out of the building through a combination of back stairs and the freight elevator. She exited the building onto an unfamiliar alley. It added to her sense of disorientation. The guards stood grim-faced by the door and waited for her to walk away.
She clutched her box to her chest and looked around, trying to gain her bearings. After such a beautiful morning, had she really been fired? Was she really being run out of town?
She could have stood there all afternoon, trapped in disbelief and indecision, until the sun dipped below the skyscrapers.
One of the guards finally coughed. "You can't stay here, Miss. You have to leave."
She blinked at him in a moment's confusion. Of course, she couldn't stay, but where should she go? It was noon now. She had to be at the bus terminal this evening, per Mr. Tilney's orders. Until then, she needed to pack and she wanted to cry. "Which way to the subway?" she asked.
The guards shared a look and a shrug before the one with a voice pointed to the right. Kitty nodded in thanks and cast her steps in that direction.
She got home in a slow, rolling fog. It was only as she stood in front of the door that she realized how futile her trek had been. The door was locked. Mavis had the only key and wouldn't be home until nearly six.
Kitty really needed to cry now. If she had to board that bus tonight with nothing beyond the clothes on her back and a small box of postcards, she might just lie down and never get up again.
She sniffled and realized she couldn't stand on the front step all afternoon. Someone was bound to notice. The way her day had turned, they were bound to think her suspicious and call the cops. She walked around the block to the service alley and found the Hudsons' kitchen door. She sat down on the step and placed her box on the ground by her feet to wait for evening and Mavis and her bus.
Mavis Allen came home a little early. Kitty was stiff from sitting for so long, half-asleep and emotionally numb when she heard sounds of life from inside the house. She half-tripped into a standing position and banged on the door. A minute later, Mavis' face appeared on the other side of the curtain. Her cry of surprise was barely muffled.
"Kitty!" she exclaimed as soon as she could open the lock. "What happened to you? You didn't show up at lunch and Miss Girard said you went home sick. I told her that was impossible without seeing me first." She pulled Kitty inside. "You look terrible!"
"I need to pack," she said, trying to move past.
"Pack? But you just got back! Besides, we're meeting Joyce and Betty for dinner in just a little bit."
"I can't. I need to leave. I've got a bus ticket out of town and it leaves in less than an hour." She succeeded in pushing past Mavis and heading toward her room.
"Kitty!" Mavis trailed after her. "What is going on?" she demanded.
"Mr. Tilney fired me today. And if I'm not on that bus, he's going to fire you and Jimmy too."
Mavis fell behind as she absorbed the shock.
Kitty's bags were still lying out from the day before. She poured her office mementos and threw her closet into her two suitcases haphazardly, and dumped the items sitting on her vanity into her makeup case.
Eventually Mavis appeared in her doorway. "Oh Kitty, I'm so sorry." Sympathy didn't make her feel any better.
"Do you want the dress?" Kitty asked, jerking her head at the pink creation Miss Tilney had bought her. "It won't fit in my bag, and I don't think I'll be able to wear it for a good long while." She slammed a suitcase shut and began to zip and buckle it. Even without the dress, it was a tight fit. Everything she owned was going to be wrinkled beyond wear.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Mavis asked. The question felt incongruous. What was there to say?
"Can you walk with me to the bus station?"
"Let me get my coat."
As they walked back to their subway stop, Mavis tried to get details from Kitty. "But why did Old Man Tilney fire you?" she asked. "Did he find out about you and Henry?"
Kitty could see no alternative. "Henry was planning to tell him about us tonight. Mr. Tilney thought I was... I can't even say what he thought. Ellie told me he wanted his sons to end up with someone better than a secretary."
"You make it sound like you were engaged." Mavis was less than supportive. "Did he or did he not make his first move yesterday? That's less than 24 hours before you got fired, hardly enough time for anything serious to develop. Let the guy take you out to dinner a few times before anyone needs to worry about you ending up with him."
Kitty sighed. Henry had already taken her out to dinner and dancing, and introduced her to his family. He had even kissed her, more than once although what it all meant she still couldn't say.
Kitty sighed again. The part she understood perfectly, the part that Mavis needed to understand, the part that was forcing her from New York, was Mr. Tilney's threat to take action against Mavis and Jimmy. In that respect, Mavis Allen had the right of it: she and Henry had nothing worth fighting for. What was a hypothetical fancy with Henry compared to her brother and her best friend? And how long could she expect it to last? Her feelings for him were long-standing but his romantic interest in her was new and untested, and she had never known him to win against his father when the old man was firmly decided.
As she boarded her bus, Kitty gave Mavis permission to share a sanitized version of events with Jimmy. The last thing Kitty wanted was for Jimmy to do something stupid and get himself fired after she left town to save his job. To everyone else -- Henry included -- Mavis was sworn to the strictest secrecy. Kitty had a feeling that Mr. Tilney was inclined to keep this whole mess hush-hush and for the sake of those she cared about she wouldn't disappoint him.
The road out of New York City was paved with failed hopes, and Kitty felt hers being crushed under the wheels as she drove away. She was no longer a secretary, no longer employed in any way. She was also not the plucky heroine, or the comedic sidekick or even a nameless extra acting out a boring life behind the true stars. Mr. Tilney had relegated her to the role of backstory. She was just one experience that added depth to the Tilneys' characters, obliquely explaining how Henry would eventually fall in love with one of Ellie's real friends, the right sort of girl with money and connections, the kind who couldn't be bullied by his father. Despair gave way to exhaustion, and exhaustion transformed into sleep, and thus she traveled until morning.
Jet lag and the thrill of requited affections -- she didn't have the nerve to call it more than that -- had kept her awake far into the night on Sunday. That, combined with the emotional wringer that had shredded her on Monday, ensured that she could have slept through an A-bomb test, but it didn't mean that she would wake up feeling refreshed and ready to face the challenges of the day.
As she woke up, she tried to take stock of her situation. Every time she imagined what she would say to her parents, however, she lost focus or courage. She got fired for fooling around with the boss's son. That was not how her parents had raised her.
At that thought, she remembered Ronnie Peters making a similar claim her last day at Northanger Federated, and Miss Oliver's frustrated retort. There were obvious dissimilarities in their stories, but the end results were the same.
Had it been a mistake to leave home, to want a different life than the one she had been born into? Had she never gone to New York, had she never even gone to Madison, it certainly would have saved her from returning home in disgrace.
Driving through Indiana, she realized that not returning home at all was a face-saving option. As they neared Chicago, she seriously considered getting off the bus and just walking until she found a new life. Mr. Tilney had given her a paycheck, she just needed enough funds to last until Friday when she could cash it.
Kitty's pocketbook held enough money for food or shelter but not both once she got off the bus. She knew no one in Chicago who might take her in and help her find work. Job hunting in New York had taught her how precarious life was, so she got back on the bus when it was time to continue to Wisconsin.
But Wisconsin was a different story. Her sister was currently in Madison, as well as some friends from school she wouldn't mind dropping in on. And her instructors had always spoken highly of her and had offered to recommend her for positions that were announced in class. She could have stayed in Madison and worked there after graduation. She should have!
The plan, once sketched, began to take firmer form. Her sister wouldn't have been able to afford her tuition this semester if not for Kitty's contribution. In that respect, Lois owed her. And while Kitty was licking her wounds, she could write her parents from a safe distance and explain what had happened at Northanger Federated. Or not. And she could see her old teachers and find the best leads on a job close to home.
At this, Kitty was brittle with impatience to see her sister again. She pushed away all thought of what had happened to her. When she reached refuge in Madison, New York and the Tilneys would be behind her, forgotten. With almost fanatical eagerness, she quitted the bus at the Madison terminal with suitcases in hand.
Lois Morland was astounded to find her sister on her doorstep. Mrs. Aykers, the boarding house matron, was quietly displeased but Kitty had been a model tenant in her day and now promised loudly to pay her way if Mrs. Aykers could just wait until Friday.
After assigning Kitty to Lois' room, the matron left the girls to get settled. Lois was naturally curious to know why her older sister was in Wisconsin when last she knew, Kitty had just returned to New York from California.
But Kitty didn't want to talk about how or why. It was enough that she was there. Lois tried various tactics to get the story out of her, but Kitty had a determined obtuseness to all but the most direct questions. For those, she simply employed amnesia or silence.
While Kitty's immediate past was uninteresting to the point of being unspeakable, she couldn't stop talking about what she was going to do now. "Tomorrow morning, I'm going with you to the College and ask Mr. Gommert to help me find a job. I'm sure he's got tons of good leads. And I need to wash and iron my clothes; they're probably a mess right now. And I need to go to the bank and cash my last paycheck."
"You left town before cashing your check?" Lois asked in disbelief.
"We've got banks in Wisconsin," said Kitty. A sick feeling settled in her stomach as she realized that was the sort of quip that Henry might say.
"Well, let me see it," said Lois. "Let me see how much a real secretary earns."
It was a harmless flattery and it did the trick. Kitty opened her suitcase and dug past the clothes and postcards for her fiscal life raft. She pulled out the envelope with a snap of her wrist and held it up for her sister's inspection.
Lois opened the envelope and dug out the check. Her eyes grew as big as saucers. "Kitty," she spoke with hushed reverence, "that's a thousand dollars."
Lois was not the prankster in the family but Kitty didn't know what to believe at first. Then she looked at the check, really looked at it, and sat down hard on her bed. It was not a paycheck from Northanger Federated but a personal check from Thomas Tilney. She was not being justly compensated, she was being bribed.
The room swam briefly through her tears and she pressed the check to her chest, unable to look at the despicable thing. "There must be some mistake," she said after a pause, her voice tight. "Some mistake with my final check. I can't cash that."
"I'll do it!" volunteered Lois.
Kitty glared at her sister while she thought. She couldn't cash the check. An amount that large would surely raise suspicions. Even if the bank accepted it, it would probably insist on keeping it for a few days to make sure the account from which the money was being drawn had sufficient funds. Plus, by cashing the check, Kitty was in effect admitting to a mercenary pursuit of Henry. It put her in the same league as Morris Fielding.
She needed money, but not a thousand dollars. Twenty dollars would be enough to keep her going until she could interview and either get a new job or give in and go home. Like a castaway dying of thirst on an island surrounded by salt water, she was desperate for funds and found the money at her fingertips to be toxic.
"How am I going to pay Mrs. Aykers if I can't use this money?" she wondered aloud.
The two argued about what Kitty should do. In the end, the check was made out to Kitty, so it was her decision. She revised her timeline and borrowed a small sum from her sister.
Borrowing money was another action that made her weepy at the reminder of Henry. That was going to happen a lot in the future and there was nothing to be done about it but ignore Lois' inquiring looks.
Mr. Gommert was surprised to see Kitty. She had been a good student, one of the best in her class, and he had been sad to see her go to New York but confident she'd succeed. For her to show up unannounced and unemployed, asking about work in the city spoke of a failure that was unlike her. He wanted an explanation but she claimed she was unable to give it. He frowned unpersuasively but eventually let her look through the binder of employers who were currently seeking secretaries from the Madison Secretarial College.
It was like her first few months in New York all over again, except with a smaller savings.
She copied down the names and addresses, then set off on foot. To travel quickly in a taxi was an unimaginable luxury, and even riding the bus seemed prohibitively expensive now. Plus, after three days travelling from New York, her legs were eager for the exercise, and the physical effort would help her fall asleep at night.
Friday afternoon was spent in lining up interviews for the next week. Even if they hired her on the spot, she probably still wouldn't start working until the following Monday, with her first paycheck trailing behind that. Money was tight and growing tighter, but she had her sister to lean on if needed. As a last resort, she could ask her parents but considering all the explanations they would rightly demand from her in exchange for a loan, and the answers she'd have to give in reply, she'd probably only end up with another bus ticket.
As the weekend began, Lois asked if Kitty had anything special she wanted to do or anyone in particular she wanted to see. Kitty declined both. She didn't want to see anyone or do anything that would involve spending money or answering questions, so she haunted the library and visited a park near the boarding house that she had never noticed before.
By the time Monday morning rolled around, Kitty thought she was ready to face her expected challenges. She'd had her sister practice interviewing her which turned out to be more educational for Lois than helpful for Kitty but it made use of the resources available. She had two interviews in the morning. At the time, she thought they had gone well, but at noon she realized it had been a week since Mr. Tilney had fired her, and her hopes and confidence vanished like smoke. Her interview that afternoon did not go well at all.
That evening, she finally wrote to her parents. Lois had already dropped a letter in the mail on Thursday evening, telling them that Kitty was in town. Kitty had no intention of writing down why she had left New York. Instead, she focused her missive on what she was doing in Madison: the interviews she had that morning and whether she thought she had a shot at them, the interviews she had planned the next day, how good it felt being back in Wisconsin, how well her sister was acting as a hostess. It was an airy confection of a letter, with no real nourishment, and would doubtless provoke an inquisition from her mother and father but unless her parents were going to come from Wiltshire to confront her in person, Kitty was willing to put them off indefinitely.
Tuesday brought more of the same. She got up and went to her interviews mechanically. She stopped at the boarding house at lunch to see if anyone from Monday had called back yet. It was a long-shot, and unfounded, but Kitty was convinced she was being ambitious rather than desperate.
After the last interview of the day, she met Lois at the College. This gave Kitty a chance to run into her old instructors and buoyed her flagging self-esteem. Lois talked of her classes and gossip as the two sisters walked back to the boarding house together. It was a perfect arrangement for Kitty, because nothing of importance was mentioned and she didn't have the energy to pay attention.
"Kitty!" Lois snapped with some irritation. She had been trying to get a response from her sister for half a block by now. "What happened to you today? Any luck?"
Kitty sighed and frowned. "Nothing especially promising," she admitted glumly. "They liked me well enough but they wanted to know what I've been doing since I graduated and I didn't know what to tell them."
This was the closest she had come so far to talking about what had happened. Lois decided to press her gingerly. "Surely you can get a letter of recommendation from someone?"
Kitty stiffened and kept walking. As the familiar brownstone drew closer, she increased her pace until she was practically racing up the front steps.
Lois followed closely behind. "Kitty, you really need to talk about it," she said, trying to keep her voice down. She nearly plowed into her sister who had stopped dead at the threshold to the parlor.
In that room was a handsome, well-dressed young man wearing the same anxious expression Kitty had been sporting since she arrived. He took a step toward her. With an awkward cry in her throat, Kitty flew into his arms.
Posted on 2014-08-04
Kitty's tears were real and numerous, and all that she had hidden away since arriving. Lois watched the scene in confusion.
She had expected that Kitty had been fired and not politely so. For that to happen, Lois knew Kitty must have screwed up something very important. However, the thousand-dollar check seemed to disprove that, except Kitty wouldn't cash it. And now, this stranger appeared out of nowhere and Kitty was clinging to him like the rock of faith!
The stranger, of course, was not unknown to Kitty. He continued to hold her and whisper soothing words until she was relatively calm again.
"How did you ever find me?" Kitty eventually sniffled out.
He brushed the last drops of tears from her cheek. "It's a long story. You didn't make it easy for me."
Lois had seen enough to feel that she could get further by asking questions. "Who are you?" she demanded.
He looked over to where Lois stood, almost surprised to find they had an audience. "I'm Henry," he said simply. He didn't add "of course" but it was implied by his tone.
"And who's Henry?" Lois asked, determined to get to the bottom of one mystery.
This question earned her a sharp look. "Kitty, is this girl a sister or cousin of yours?" They were similar enough in appearance to make this a smart guess.
Kitty hid her face in momentary embarrassment. "Henry, this is my sister, Lois," she introduced at last. "Lois, this is Henry Tilney."
Henry watched for any sign of recognition but found none. "And is there a reason why your sister has never heard of me?" he inquired.
Kitty squirmed a little in his arms but he didn't let go of her, not even a little bit. "It hurt too much to think about, much less talk about," she admitted. "Besides, I didn't think I'd ever see you again."
"That last part is patently ridiculous. But the first part," he paused to kiss her forehead, "is perfectly understandable."
A gaggle of noisy boarders came in through the front door and slowed to a halt to stand next to Lois and take in a pre-dinner show.
Lois cleared her throat to scatter them but Henry was left feeling exposed. "Is there someplace quiet we can talk?" he asked Kitty. "There are some important things we need to discuss."
"Male callers aren't allowed past the front parlor," Lois informed him. "Unless you're staying for dinner."
The idea didn't sit squarely with him. "I'll tell you what, Kitty," he said. "Let me take you out to dinner instead, just the two of us. We'll get a small table in a quiet restaurant, with plenty of waiters to keep an eye on us," he added for Lois. "I saw one across the street from my hotel that would fit the bill perfectly."
Kitty smiled warmly. Doing anything with Henry was the best idea she'd heard all week. "Just let me wash my face and we can go," she told him. "I won't be a moment. You don't mind, Lois, do you?"
It was clear to Lois that she would have to mind a great deal indeed to dent her sister's willingness to go off with this Henry, and that whatever had caused the pall to be thrown over Kitty's happiness, he appeared to be the one person to lift it.
Kitty did not even wait for her sister's nod of assent before skipping out of the room to freshen up. It left her sister and her suitor alone together to acquaint themselves with each other as much or as little as was their wont.
"Don't worry, Miss Morland," he began. "I shall take excessively good care of Kitty. We have a long conversation ahead of us but I won't keep her out too late. I promise to have her back by midnight."
"Our curfew is at ten," she frowned at him.
Henry was meditative. "I shall take that into consideration."
Walking out on Henry's arm was impossible just a half-hour ago, and yet it was happening.
They did not walk long before he stopped and brought her to face him. They had passed a few buildings, not even to the end if the block, yet it was far enough from Mrs. Aykers' boarding house that no one could see unless they stuck their head out a window. There, practically in the middle of the street, he kissed her.
"I'm sorry," he apologized when he was done, "but your sister struck me as the worst kind of chaperone."
Kitty had not noticed this before, but she could see Henry's point of view clearly now.
"I have been out of my mind with worry," he told her seriously. "When I realized you were gone, no one knew where to find you. Why did you not go to your parents?"
"I was too embarrassed to see them. I couldn't think of what to tell them," she explained sheepishly.
"Well, I don't know what you're going to tell them now. I spoke to your mother on the telephone, trying to find you. I don't think I made a very good impression," he warned her. "When she finally admitted you were in Madison, staying with your sister, I may have been overly insistent that she give me the address."
"What did you say to her?" She was more curious than worried. Henry was not the kind of person to give offence easily.
"I told her that I was the man who had aspirations of being her son-in-law, but that wasn't going to happen if I never saw you again."
That made his intentions crystal clear, but she couldn't help exclaiming, "Henry!"
"You don't think I had an epic row with my father, left Northanger, and sat on a bus through more states than I care to count just to ensure we parted amicably!" He entwined his fingers into hers. "What say you, Kitty? Formal proposal or just as we are? Or have I been wasting your time without realizing it?"
He had been confident of his reception, provided he located her, so that when she said, "Yes!" and kissed him, he didn't wonder which question she was answering.
Having agreed to their long-term happiness, he got her to recount the events of the past week. And so they walked arm-in-arm through the city.
"But how did you get my parents' number?" she asked. "Your father destroyed my personnel file. You couldn't look me up."
He looked uncomfortable. "I talked with your brother. This was last Tuesday," he said. "Perhaps I should explain the whole thing. It sounds unforgivable by itself."
Kitty frowned at this but she trusted Henry completely.
"After lunch on Monday," he began, "some girl from McAvoy's pool was sitting at your desk. I tried to be sly about it, but I thought Susan suspected something was up. She told me that you didn't feel well and so she sent you home. My first thought was that jet lag had caught up with you, but then I realized all your new postcards were gone. When I pointed this out to Susan, she said that you had gotten sick at your desk. I suppose I should have been suspicious at the slight change in her story, but I just couldn't imagine her involved in something so underhanded. Anyway, I went by your house that night, but of course you weren't there. I thought you must have felt improved enough to go to your dinner with Mavis as planned, which shows I can be a sucker too. Then I went home and told my father about us. The old man played his role so well, I'm beginning to think I'm not as clever as I thought I was." He was rueful.
"The next morning you still weren't back, and my life felt like something out of Hitchcock. I tried to see Mavis, but for some reason, she was out on deliveries whenever I dropped in. Jimmy had the morning off. Susan hadn't heard when you'd be back in.
"When I finally ran your brother to ground, he had no idea what I was talking about. At first he resented my concern but after a heated back-and-forth his curiosity was awoken. He said he was going to get to the bottom of it. I went back down to the floor after five, trusting your brother to have something to report."
Henry sighed. "Kitty, I must apologize. As I said, it was a heated back-and-forth at the start of his shift. He didn't cool off getting the facts from Mavis." He sighed again. "Kitty, I fired him."
She tripped over a piece of uneven pavement. "You fired my brother?"
"Trust me, the irony is not lost on me," he grimaced. "At least there are no more Morlands left at Northanger Federated for us Tilneys to fire. I feel like a heel but at the time, I had no idea what had happened to you. You had vanished and your brother -- who ought to know where you were, by the way -- was withholding information and wanted to pick a fight with me."
"You didn't hit him, did you?" Kitty remembered the night Henry had given Morris Fielding a black eye.
"Of course not! I was angry but he is your brother." Henry continued, "Mavis found me the next morning and told me everything. With Jimmy officially fired, it was only Mavis you were keeping safe. So I found your brother and gave him a glowing letter of recommendation. If he doesn't walk out of Macy's with a job, it won't be my fault. We talked a little, more calmly, and in the end, he gave me your parents' telephone number. I called them right away, but of course you hadn't arrived yet. You didn't show up the next day either. I got the idea of calling Woodston; perhaps you had decided to work there since Reid had pretty much guaranteed you a job."
"Why would I go to Woodston?" Kitty wondered. "As soon as the deal with Northanger was finalized, your father would just fire me again. And then I'd be stuck in California with even fewer friends than New York. Plus, how could I afford to get all the way there? I had no idea your father--"
She stopped walking to root through her purse. She dug out the check and handed it to Henry. He looked at the number and chuckled. "As if he could put a price on you." He tried to hand it back to her but she didn't want it. "Keep it," he told her. "Consider it an engagement present."
"I couldn't!" she protested.
"I'd feel better if you did, if only to tweak the old man's nose." He kissed her hand. "Besides, after I got the story from Mavis and Jimmy, I had a conversation with my father that will probably go down in history. The things we said to each other! Anyone who eavesdropped certainly got an education. 'Honor your father,' I know that's a commandment broken. I quit Northanger. I moved out. I told Ellie and Gran I wasn't returning until and unless I had married you and the old man begged your forgiveness. I may never speak with my father again, and right now I cannot consider it a loss. A man who would let a woman get in the way of business is in the wrong business, as he would say.
"Anyway, it was only after your sister's letter arrived that we -- and I'm including your parents in this -- had any idea where you might be. And so I decided to follow you and take the bus, just as you did. If it was good enough for you, and all that rot. Let's never do that again."
"But what happened to Mavis?" she asked.
"She quit on Friday and hopped a bus to Hollywood the next morning. I got her a job with Woodston."
"But Mr. Tilney..." Kitty began, fearing for Mavis' future.
"At present, he doesn't have any say over who they hire at Woodston," he assured her. "And he may never have a say, at the rate he's going. When I spoke to Reid, I was more open than prudence would dictate. After hearing how you had been treated, he of course hired Mavis over the phone and threatened to cancel the whole deal with Northanger. You know he's not so secretly in love with you. Then again, so am I."
"Are you really?" It was a dopey thing to say, but it still seemed improbable and she didn't mind him saying it again.
"I told you I was besotted. What did you think I meant?"
His story took a moment to soak in. All that he had done for her! It was too much.
But as another thought occurred to her, she frowned. "Henry, I can't marry you now. My parents won't allow it."
He was incredulous. "Won't allow it!" he repeated. "What possible objections could they have?"
"You have no job, you have no place to live, and your father hates me," Kitty counted. They were only three objections, but they were each rather large.
"My father is the worst hypocrite for daring to think ill of you, but my sister and grandmother approve," he said in response to her last reason. "And as for a home, it's in California. You've stayed there yourself. You've even slept in my bed," he reminded her with a wink. "And don't think I'm too gentlemanly not to trot out that story to your parents if it serves my needs."
"Henry Tilney, you wouldn't dare!" She was scandalized. He was trying to be funny but her father would have no sense of humor on this topic. "Have you ever stared down the business end of a shotgun?"
He had not. "Perhaps," he said after reflection, "I should just say that I am rich enough to keep us quite comfortable until I find gainful employment or my father sees reason. I hear Woodston is hiring."
By now, they were outside the restaurant that had supposedly lured her away from Mrs. Aykers' dining room.
He paused, hesitant. "Do you mind," he asked, "if we pop into my hotel for a moment? I had sent word to the old man, a last ditch effort to patch things up before an irrevocable schism. I gave him until six o'clock to respond so I hope there is a telegram waiting."
Kitty thought it a bit much for a son to impose a deadline like that, but Henry knew his father far better than she did. And it was in her best interest for Henry to reconcile with his father. She agreed and so they went.
A telegram was indeed waiting. As he read it, the color drained from his face. He wasted no time passing it to Kitty. She expected it to say that Henry was permanently disowned over this but it had nothing to do with Kitty at all.
The message was simple: "ELEANOR ELOPED STOP COME HOME AT ONCE STOP."
Posted on 2014-08-07
Dinner was postponed of course. They went to Henry's room so he could telephone his family in New York without passing bellhops listening in.
At the door, he turned to her with moderate embarrassment. "I had planned on crossing this threshold with you in a month or two under very different circumstances. As it stands, I think it a very slippery slope to kiss you now."
Kitty turned red with agreement.
The operator connected the call and his brother answered after a few rings. Dick was able to fill in some details.
Ellie had eloped yesterday with a ne'er-do-well she had met in California. Their new brother-in-law had showed up unannounced on Sunday acting as if he expected to be received by the family. Dick hadn't been around to greet him, but Gran said he looked like a smooth operator right out of central casting. Ellie had been shocked to see him but she hadn't turned him away. He had somehow lured Ellie to the courthouse on Monday, and the deed was done before lunch, after which they had boarded a train for a honeymoon in Philadelphia.
"She called last night to let us know she had arrived safely, if you can believe it. They were holed up in The Presidential, suite 402. By then, the old man had officially disowned her for getting well and truly snared by a fortune hunter, and we were all forbidden to speak with her. Gran had Milton try to convince her to come back home, but you know what Ellie is like."
"I know what my entire family is like," Henry retorted. "Why do you think I'm so eager to leave it and start my own?"
The final insult, however, came when Henry had asked to speak with his father and Dick had reluctantly refused. "He hasn't renounced you, you understand. Not officially, anyway. But he's been in such a foul humor since Ellie ran off that I know it wouldn't end well. Wait until he cools off a bit. Besides, I think he blames you for the whole shambles."
"How is any of this my fault?" he squawked into the receiver. "I wasn't even there when it happened."
"I'm afraid that's exhibit A," his brother commiserated. "If you had been here, you could have sent this conman packing, toute de suite. Plus, if you hadn't taken Ellie to California, she never would have met him in the first place. Plus, if you hadn't gone gallivanting after your secretary--"
"Watch yourself!" Henry warned hotly. "I stand ready to disown the old man for her. To throw you into the same ash heap would be easier than batting an eye."
Kitty could hear the dead air on the other end of the call.
"Hank," began Richard Tilney in a more conciliatory tone. "You know how Ellie depended on you as a buffer against the old man. With you gone in pursuit of your happily ever after, who would look after her? Me?" he scoffed. "We both know I'm too irresponsible for that. I'd have thrown her to the wolves at the first sign of trouble to save my own skin. Gran's fights with the old man consist of haughty silence and disapproving glares. Ellie saw her future as a series of miserable days in this house, transitioning to a series of miserable days in some new house when the old man eventually found some miserable young man to take Ellie off his hands. She saw a chance for escape and she took it. I'm just grateful she didn't go looking for my service revolver and make a messy end of it."
Henry rung off and sat down heavily.
"Henry, it's not your fault," Kitty told him quietly. "You couldn't have known."
"Was there no lesson from California?" he asked, his tone full of self-recrimination. "I didn't tell anyone how close she came to disaster because I wanted to spare her. A lot of good that turned out to be!"
Having saved Ellie from the mistake of getting engaged to Morris Fielding once, Henry thought his job was done. For the remainder of their stay in California, she had been a different person, sobered by her folly. Except for the time she hadn't been sober at all. Kitty tried to recall if Ellie had betrayed a weakening to Mr. Fielding during their night out that would predict this rashness, but there was so much she didn't remember from that night.
Kitty didn't know what to do. She needed to comfort him, but how? She reached for the phone hesitantly and picked it up. It took some doing, but she was able to get to Philadelphia directory assistance, and from there with very little work to the front desk of The Presidential.
"Room 402, please," she requested. "This is a family emergency."
After another short pause, she heard it ring again.
"Hello?" came the disembodied greeting.
Kitty froze for a second. She had expected Ellie to answer the phone for some reason, not her husband. "May I please speak with Mrs. Fielding?" she asked hesitantly.
"I'm afraid you've got the wrong room."
Before she could protest, she was listening to the dial tone. He had hung up on her! But that was not why her heart was racing. She recognized that voice, and that meant Ellie was there.
Kitty repeated her steps until she was again talking with the front desk of the Presidential. "I was just talking with the guest in room 402 but we were disconnected," she said.
The staff member apologized for the inconvenience and shortly thereafter she heard the now familiar ring.
"Hello?" repeated Ellie's husband.
"Mr. Ashley!" Kitty exclaimed. "It's good to hear your voice. Is Ellie around?"
From his seat on the bed, Henry looked at her sharply.
"I'm sorry, but who is this?" He didn't know her voice, but why should he?
Henry was now standing and gesturing for her attention.
"This is Kitty Morland, Mr. Henry's --" She stopped herself and smiled. "I mean, Henry Tilney's fiancee."
Henry was close at her side, leaning down to press his ear close to the receiver.
"Oh, Miss Morland! Good heavens! Engaged so soon?" He burst into laughter. "I suppose I haven't room to talk. Well, congratulations! Let me get Ellie for you."
"She married Howard?" Henry asked. "She married Howard?"
Kitty nodded giddily.
"Kitty!" came Ellie's voice, brimming with happiness. "Is it really you? How did you find us?"
"You told your family where you are," Kitty reminded her. "How did you end up married?"
"It was a whirlwind! Howard took the Saturday night flight to New York, ostensibly to see Henry but really he just wanted to see me again. Have you ever heard of anything so romantic?" Ellie then remembered who she was talking to and had a fit of giggles. "I'm sure you have! Oh, Kitty, I need to apologize for every wrong-headed thing I ever told you. And you can tell Henry --"
"Tell him yourself!" he interjected, wresting the phone from Kitty.
"Henry!" Ellie was momentarily taken aback. "Congratulations are in order, I hear. And I'm sorry you had to hear about Howard and me as you did. It must have been a shock." The apology hardly fit the crime.
"Does the family have any idea who you've married?" he asked.
"Yes, of course." She didn't sound entirely convinced.
"Do they know his full name? Do they know who his family is? Do they know where he comes from or how he makes his money?"
"Um, no." Clearly, Ellie didn't know the answers to most of these questions either. Having taken it for granted that she had married an honest man, she was unprepared for her brother to introduce doubt. It had not occurred to her that a friend of her brother who had been allowed to make her acquaintance might not be worthy of being her husband.
Kitty, who had felt tremendous relief that Ellie had not eloped with Mr. Fielding, began to grow worried that her friend had merely swapped one mistake for another.
"Perfect," said Henry. "Have a lovely honeymoon, Mrs. Ashley. We'll talk later. And tell Howard from me that I shall wring both your necks when I see you again." With that he hung up.
"Henry!" Kitty exclaimed.
"I can safely say that was an empty threat," he smiled, "provided Howard doesn't do anything foolish like try to kiss you." He tried to do the same, despite any earlier resolution.
"Henry!" Kitty repeated.
"Oh, there's nothing to worry about," he assured her. "Howard's perfectly harmless, perfectly wealthy. Had Gran realized who he was, she probably would've had Milton drive the two to city hall."
At Kitty's speaking look, he continued.
"You've heard of 'barons of industry'? Well, Howard's family's industry is aviation. I mean, he's still only a younger son charting his own course, and so much of the family fortune is tied up in capital... factories and whatnot. But Edmund has always struck me as more than fair, and Howard's not one to rest on his laurels. If the old man knew who his son-in-law actually is, he'd be jumping for joy. Howard has enough money to satisfy my father's greed and enough connections, albeit in a West Coast sort of way, to satisfy his ambitions."
He took Kitty's hands and began to nuzzle her neck. "I'm not too prickly, am I, darling?" he asked in a low voice near her ear.
He was not, and even if he was, she doubted she could find the words to criticize him.
"Ellie doesn't know who she married, which makes me suspect the rest of the family is also in the dark," he confided against her skin. "Someone should set them straight before things get out of control."
That last statement was as applicable to the Northanger townhouse in New York as it was to a hotel room in Madison. "Didn't you say that kissing me was a bad idea?" She couldn't remember his exact words.
"Haven't I told you that Tilneys are no good at deprivation?" he countered smoothly. "But I see your point."
"Will you call your family? Tell them they can stop worrying about Ellie?" she asked.
Another call to New York was the last thing he wanted to do right now. "On one condition," he insisted. "I'm going to extract the biggest concession possible from my father for restoring his daughter to respectable society."
"But Ellie never left respectable society," corrected Kitty.
"He doesn't know that," said Henry. "Just as he didn't know you are completely unrelated to the other Catherine Morland when he made you my secretary."
Kitty felt as if she had been handed a missing puzzle piece. How long had Henry been aware of this?
But part of what he said bothered her, and it had nothing to do with the mischievous trick he was planning to play on his father. As her future husband, she ought to be totally honest with him, starting immediately.
"I never said I was completely unrelated to the other Miss Morland," she said in a small voice, "just that I've never met her. We're actually cousins."
He eyed her critically. "I'm sorry, but what do you mean?"
"She's my cousin. Our fathers are brothers."
"I know how cousins work, at least in general," he said. "And I thought I was clever. How does it work in your case?"
"Well, Uncle John fought in the Great War," Kitty began. "My father said he went to war a brother and came home a stranger. Then a few months after he came back, out of the blue, a letter arrived and offered him a job in Texas, working with a war buddy, someone whose life he had saved once or twice. He was still unsettled at home, so he accepted the offer and moved to Texas."
"And who was this good friend?" asked Henry, beginning to catch on.
Henry whistled in spite of himself. "So Uncle John met Elizabeth Aubrey, fell in love, got married, and had a baby girl. Albert eventually dies, leaving everything to his sister. But how did the two of you end up being so close in age with the same name?"
"Our mothers were both expecting at the same time. It was Aunt Elizabeth's first time, but my mother's fourth. When I was born, they named me Catherine after my grandmother. But between taking care of Mom and me, and looking after Pete, Mike and Jimmy, my father forgot to send a letter to his brother until he received a telegram a week later announcing the birth of Catherine Elizabeth Morland in Texas. You see, Aunt Elizabeth's mother is also a Catherine, so even though I have an earlier claim to the name, my cousin's is superior. After that, the family just started calling me Kitty."
"So that's how it's done," he marveled.
"I don't know her, not really. We've never met; that much is absolutely true. Uncle John sent me ten dollars when I graduated high school, and another ten when I finished my coursework in Madison, but the real money doesn't belong to him; it belongs to the Aubreys. And even if it did belong to him, he has Catherine to provide for, and even if he didn't have Catherine, he has so many nieces and nephews that I've never had any expectations." She needed to shut up and stop rambling. "Are you upset with me?" She didn't want Henry to be angry with her for keeping her family secret from him.
"Honestly, I don't care how much gilt you have on your family tree." He placed small kisses around her face and neck. He was not upset in the slightest. "And I can guarantee, as the niece of the influential John Morland, president of Aubrey Petroleum, my father will do contortions to make you a Tilney."
Nothing remained but to stop what he was doing -- a Herculean effort -- and telephone New York once more with the good news that both son and daughter had been restored fully into their father's good graces.
Recently, Catherine "Kitty" Morland of Wiltshire, WI to Henry Tilney of New York City. The bride is the niece of John Morland, president of Aubrey Petroleum. The groom is the grandson of Richard Northanger, founder of the department store chain.
The couple were married in the home of the bride's parents. The bride was attended by two of her sisters, Lois and Margaret Morland, and the groom's sister, Mrs. Howard Ashley. The groom was attended by his brother, Capt. Richard Tilney (Ret.), his brother-in-law, Mr. Howard Ashley, and the bride's brother, Sgt. Peter Morland. The bride wore a light gray suit and a corsage of pink roses.
Shortly after the reception, the couple travelled by train to New York City, where they are enjoying a brief honeymoon and visiting with the groom's family. They will reside in Southern California where Mr. Tilney is the Vice President of West Coast Operations for Northanger Federated Department Stores.
The couple met in New York while the bride was working at Northanger Federated.The End