Vl/un-1 lldV^ CVdUCLi Ll1C tlULll, because the young should not be disillusioned. If that was to come it should come only after they had tasted wonder. Had he ever tasted wonder? The answer was a little while in coming, and then it was, No.
Happiness, a kind of happiness, but never wonder, because he thought that when you tasted wonder it would leave a mark on you. He had only once seen the result of wonder and he had been very young then. He had seen it on the faces of Mr. and Mrs. Fielding. They would sit in the front row of the church and often he would find himself singing his solo' to them alone. They walked in the street hand in hand, and some of the choir boys said they were potty. They were of no account, the Fieldings. He had worked in an ironmonger's shop all his life, never even rising to manager, and she had done daily work until she fell and broke her leg. She died at seventy-three, and the following day he put his head in the gas oven.
"Dad I Did you hear what I said?"
"Yes, I heard you, dear; I was just thinking. But ... but I think it's a question you should ask your mother; she'd be able to tell you better than me."
Why? "Why Well, because she's a woman; she'd see it from her side."
"If I asked Mother I know. exactly what she'd say."
"Don't probe; you'll know in God's good time." He gulped in his throat. Again he didn't know whether to laugh or to treat this seriously. That his young daughter could have got the measure of her mother utterly nonplussed him. That Gail, who was always obedient and loving towards her mother, should yet see her through a mirror of cool reasoning amazed him, for in that simple sentence was embodied Esther's character and, stemming from that, her way of life.
Thinking it advisable to ignore her statement, he said hesitantly,
"Well marriage is a very 'wonderful thing if two people love each other; really love each other."
"But how will I know, I mean really know. You see, I feel I really love Paul, I've been gone on him for ages. I've dreamed about us being married and all that, but I want to know if I'll still feel like this . well, I mean when I'm married and have a family. "
"Oh my dear! you mustn't trouble your head about such things yet.
Look. " He swung the car round into the avenue.
"You'll have other boys, dozens of other boys. Well, if not dozens you'll know and like a lot of. boys before you marry.. What you want to do now is to enjoy yourself. Go to parties and dances. The summer will soon be here, you'll be playing tennis and you'll meet other boys and ..."
"I don't want to meet other boys, Dad. I've just told you." Her voice was earnest now.
"I like Paul, I always have."
"Well then, go on liking him, there's nobody stopping you. And there's one good thing about it, your mother likes the Birketts." He felt he shouldn't have said that.
"Do you love Mother, Dad?"
He was startled again by this question and he wanted to evade it by saying, "What's got into you tonight?" but he knew what had got into his daughter. She was awakening to life; the puppy fat was slipping from her mind as well as from her body. She wanted to talk about this thing that was persistently with her and which took on the shape at present of Paul Birkett.
As he turned into the drive he said, "Of course I love your mother."
When he stopped the car he found she was looking at him, and he wouldn't have been at all surprised if she had come out with, "Then why do you have single beds? Because if you love somebody I would have thought you would always want to be close to them." Or she could have said, "Well, why have you stopped kissing mother when you go out in the morning and when you come in at night? You used to do it when I was small." But what she said was, "It's funny, Dad, but I can talk to you better than anybody else, even Anna, and we talk about some things I can tell you."
He laughed gently and touched her cheek with his hand as he said, "I bet you do. But I'm glad you can talk to me, I hope you always will."
She said now, "Aren't you coming in?" and he answered, "No, I haven't time; I'm late for the squawking session as it is. It's an absolute nuisance having to pick up modern misses from
She put her arm through the window, her fist doubled, and aimed a punch at him; then said, in what she imagined to be a haughty grown-up voice,
"Will you look me up, Mr. Blenheim, on your return?" And he answered in the same vein, "It'll be a pleasure, Ma'am. A pleasure."
As he drove the car round the circular flower bed and out of the drive again he thought: She could be married in two or three years' time.
And the boys, too, for that matter. When they were gone there'd be only he and Esther. What would it be like, just he and Esther alone?
But the thought brought no mental picture to the screen of his mind.
It was a fortnight later when he saw the second letter marked "Private and Personal' lying on top of his mail. Ada was in her office, her door open, but before he had finished reading the letter she was standing at the other side of the desk, and once again she saw his face giving him away. The letter said simply: " You can have your watch.
I'll be in about the same time. "
He had given up all hope of getting his watch back and had decided to go into Newcastle, buy a similar one and have it engraved. In fact he would rather have done this than visit her house again. But then there was the damning inscription. With a thing like that she had a hold over him.
Ada was still looking at him as he folded up the letter and casually opened a side drawer and thrust it in. When she laid an order sheet on the desk and turned away without speaking, went into her room and closed the door, he quietly opened the drawer again, took out the letter and put it in his pocket.
Behind her closed door Ada Cole stood looking into space. It was a woman. He had got himself mixed up with a woman. That was the only reason he would look like that. She bent down and opened the bottom drawer of her desk and from beneath some papers she took out a crumpled envelope and studied it yet again. There was something vaguely familiar about the writing. She had a good memory for people's handwriting. Well, so she should, she told herself; she had dealt with handwriting all her working life, and whoever had written the address on this envelope had got her claws into Mr. Blenheim. Yet she couldn't imagine him going off the rails, him happily married and such a nice family. And besides which, he was
such a nice fellow. But he'd had that scared look on his face again when he had read that letter . Now where had she seen that writing before? Something about the P. "Private and Personal'. If she had seen it recently then, she deduced, it must be somebody in the office.
Mentally she now went over all the female staff from the ground floor up. She went through the directors' secretaries, but the improbability of it being one of them was too high, two of them being over fifty and the others, Miss Bateman excluded, were of an appearance, she decided, that wouldn't attract any man, not a man like Mr. Blenheim anyway.
That left only the pool. Now who was there in the pool? Rose Weybridge, Betty Ray, Olive Standford and Mary Cheeseman. Mary Cheeseman was getting married next week. That left three, and she could count Olive Standford out; a man would be hard put to take on a girl like Olive, poor soul. There were plain girls and plain girls, but Olive was in a category of her own. That only left Rose Weybridge and Betty Ray. Now she wouldn't put it past Rose Weybridge to try it on with any man. She was a young madam was Rose Weybridge. And what about the other one?
She was a cheeky piece, Betty Ray, always with an answer ready and brazen sort of eyes. But when would either of them have come in contact with Mr. Blenheim? Christmas I The word hit her like a blow.
When she returned after the holidays she found a note signed by Betty Ray stating briefly what work she had done and adding that she had filed the copies of the letters she had typed. Ada Cole remembered that she had commented to herself at the time about the handwriting, thinking, They get worse. She hadn't the note now, but "she could easily get a " sample of that girl's handwriting, and she would do so without further delay.
On their third meeting she said to him, "You know I could love you or hate your guts," and he replied, "I'd rather you didn't do either."
"What're you frightened of, anyway? Oh, I know." She flapped her hand at him "There's your wife, and the church and the Choral Society and the Rotarians, and the Save the Children Fund Committee, and oh. God knows what. I know everything
you're in, I've done my homework, but when all that's said I say, What are you frightened of? I'm not a blabber, I've told you. Have I let on in any way over these past weeks that I know you other than as one of the bosses ? "
"No, I can't say you have. But you've written to me twice and your letters, to say the least, stand out. Private and Personal. You know yourself that when a letter like that comes into an office it means just that, " Private and Personal'. But there's very little of private business that one can keep from one's secretary. "
"Oh, if that's all you're worrying about. Old Ada wouldn't smell a dead pig if it was hung under her nose."
"You'd be surprised."
"Yes, I'd say I would be if I found out different. But anyway'--she turned her head to one side--'you don't want anything to do with me, do you? I'm not your type. That's it, isn't it?"
"No." He had to be kind.
"It isn't a case of you not being my type, it's a case of not wanting to be involved in anything underhand or----' He almost said unseemly, but that would have made her laugh.
"Oh I' He moved impatiently on the couch.
"We've been through all this before. You said you'd return my watch and that's why I'm here."
She stared at him. She wasn't sitting on the couch tonight but on a chair to the side of the fireplace, and after a moment she said, "If I give it you back, will you do something for me?"
He groaned inwardly. Another catch, another hitch. Not the bedroom again.
"It all depends what it is," he said, 'and if I'm in a position to grant it. "
"Oh, you're in a position all right. I want to go up."
"Up?" He bent his head towards her, not understanding.
"Yes, up on to the top floor. Mr. Noland's secretary is going to America; I'd like her job."
He took his eyes from hers and looked into the fire. He was thinking rapidly. If he told her the truth that he had no power to help her here, it was just a possibility she might hang on to the watch. He listened to her saying, "Mary Cheeseman's getting married and Rosie Weybridge hasn't got the sense she was born with. That only leaves Olive Standford and me. Now
Olive has been there tor over a year and her work isn't bad, but if you've seen her you'll know that she isn't what every man wants about the office. " Her mouth curved upwards now:
then her face broke into a smile as she ended, "So that only leaves me.
A little word from the right direction, a little push, and I'll be upstairs. The last word, I know, is with Miss Ban- man, but you could cell her that I've done work for you and u was all right. It was all right, wasn't it?"
Yes. Oh yes. "
"Well then, will you? You could say sort of offhand like to her when you're going through the office to see his nibs " I hear Mr. Noland is losing his secretary. Who were you thinking of putting in her place?
And if she doesn't say me you could say, "Well there's that Miss Ray.
She did some very good work for me. " He was staring at her again.
She really believed that this was how things could be done. She didn't think that Miss Bateman would be asking herself why he should want Miss Rav promoted, why his interest.
He couldn't understand how she, being what she was, could be so naive.
He said, "I'll do what I can."
"You will?" She was laughing now.
"Good. You won't regret it. I'm a good secretary, I know me own worth, and if I've got somebody to take an interest in, and an office of me own .. , well, I'll go ahead like wildfire. I know I will."
Not in Peamarsh's, he thought, not if I can help it. He would, he knew now, never know a moment's peace as long as she was in the building.
He watched her get up and go into the bedroom, and when she came back his watch was dangling from her finger. She came and stood in front of him and swung it before his face- like a pendulum. Her own face had an impish look as she said, "The evidence."
He put out his hand and took hold of the end of the strap, but she still held on to it and as she looked down at him she said, "I hate to let it go; it was me only hold over you."
Thank God for that, he thought, 'remembering the threatened -pregnancy.
He wanted to pull it from her hand, but restrained himselt in case shis should be a prelude to a tussle. Jt-le felt she was just waiting for that. He took a slow deep breath as the watch dropped on to his hand, and putting it in his pocket he said, "Thank you."
As he got to his feet she said, "You won't forget about what I asked you, will you?"
"No, I won't forget." He picked up his hat and walked out of the room and into the passage, and there, slipping before him, she put her hand on the sneck of the door and turned her face up to him as she said,
"Well, I suppose this is the last tete-atete."
He made no answer to this and she said softly, "You're a fool you know; you could have had fun. I'm not a gold-digger. There's something I put much more value on than money, and I'll give you three guesses at it." She put her head back now against the door and laughed a high cracking laugh, saying, "You blush easily. I've never known a man blush like you;
you're like a lad in some ways that's never been tried out. All right, all right. " The slow movement of her hand before his face indicated he keep calm.
When the door was pulled open he stepped into the dark street and moved swiftly away towards the Cut, and he was some way along it before he heard the door bang. It didn't close, it banged.