"Yes, he would, Mr. Blenheim. I can also tell you that he had decided that he wasn't going to inform your wife, he didn't want her to be upset, but' she paused 'to use his own words he was going to take it out of your hide. Subtly of course. The means he was going to use was the business concerning the outside building contracts. He was going to give you carte blanche except' again she paused 'for the final word on estimates. He would make these himself, but they'd all be done through your office and you personally, and whatever trouble ensued he would see that you bore full responsibility. You have known your father-in-law a long time but even so it might seem impossible to you, even at this stage, that he could, under those circumstances, make trouble for you, but I can assure you, Mr. LA, LllttL'llC LUU1LL i.
Miss Bateman sneered as she said the word, dirty, and there was such bitterness in her tone that for the moment he forgot his own predicament and wondered what had happened to. turn her against the man she'd worked for for so long. Surely not just because she'd heard of his affair in York. Yet women were strange creatures. Didn't he know 1 He asked her quietly now, "Why are you telling me all this, Miss Bateman?"
She didn't answer for a moment, but, bringing her hands from the desk where she had kept them during all this time, she joined them tightly together and pressed them against her thin neck as she said, "Because I'm leaving next week and I thought it might be a good idea that when you were called into the sanctum you should have in your possession some bullets to fire, not only for yourself but on my behalf, so to speak." She begAn now to gather some papers up quickly from her desk, and when she rose he rose also and said, "I don't quite follow you.
Miss Bateman. I can't see how letting him know I'm aware of the real reason for his visits to York can affect you in any way. "
"That alone couldn't, Mr. Blenheim, but when you tell him that you are aware that I have been his mistress for fifteen years, and that I have a child by him--adopted, she is now thirteen years old--and that I expected him to marry me when his wife died, you'll understand that you are firing for me. Also, that right up to this very week he has visited me as usual. My home is very discreetly placed on the outskirts of the town; he arranged it so." She moved towards the door and his stunned gaze followed her, and there she turned and looked at him, her face, he thought, on the point of crumpling into tears. But her voice held a slight cracked sound like laughter as she said, "I believed in Colonel Callow. Mr. Rippon kindly phoned me from a call box during his visits. The Colonel, I understand didn't like the phone.
What is more, he actually made me feel sorry for the poor, lonely Colonel. I was a fool, wasn't I, to be taken in? But I . I really can't blame myself for my stupidity because Mr. Rippon is a very clever man. "
"Oh, Miss Bateman, I'm very sorry."
She turned her face towards the door for a moment but she anything about this. Miss Bateman; you wouldn't really want one"
"Oh yes, yes please." She was looking at him now. Her eyes were full of tears but they weren't spilling over.
"I ask you to do this for me.
I want you to do it. I want him to know that you know. It may not give you any power over him because you're not the kind of man who would use that kind of power, but it will prevent him from using you as a battering ram because of his dislike of you. And he dislikes you heartily, he cannot stand you. All crooks hate honest men. "
As they stared at each other in silence he had the strong urge to take her in his arms and comfort her. Then she said "I'm acting in strict accordance with the saying, there's no fury like that of a woman scorned, don't you think, Mr. Blenheim? But I've kept my fury quiet because I'm averse to brawls, but it will nevertheless have results."
She blinked a number of times, then, straightening her shoulders and wetting her lips, she went out of the room. She didn't even deem it necessary to go to the cloakroom but marched straight to the Board Room, knocked once, then opened the door and went in.
He stood where he was staring into the empty hallway. Amazing, unbelievable, fantastic. The words were of the superlative degree, of which his mind was capable at the moment. The whole affair was past description, at least that part of it in which Miss Bateman was concerned. Poor Miss Bateman. He felt utterly, utterly sorry for her.
All these years he had judged her' to be an unfeeling, prim, less-than-human being, a sort of highly-powered machine. How wrong one could be. Yet, no one could be blamed for thinking her other wise for her attitude had created that impression. But he had just glimpsed the real Miss Bateman, an exceptional woman.
He forgot to close the door after him before be walked across the landing, and he was still in a state of bewilderment when he entered his office again, there to see Ada Cole standing in her doorway, her hand to her cheek. She went to say some thing as he passed her, but instead she broke down, and he turned quickly to her as if he had just recollected she was there and said, "Why, Ada, don't. Don't distress yourself like that."
--- -. -- ^-^-*. i"^^^, s. uuti I. n.AAWV wlIl.Lt1AJ Ocly, A UU11 L, don't really."
"Then say nothing."
"But it was me."
"Well, you did what you thought best."
"I did, I did, Mr. Blenheim. I was so worried. That girl's no good, I know she's not. I've found out things about her. I ... I didn't know what to do. Miss Bateman was the only one, but ... but believe me----' She now blew her nose loudly, then went on, " Oh believe me, Mr. Blenheim, I never thought for a moment she'd pass it on to Mr.
Rippon, I didn't. I would have died rather than open my mouth if I'd thought.
And this morning when she phoned and told me, well, I nearly ran out of the place. Honest I did. "
"Sit down. Sit down." He pressed her into a chair. Then sitting down himself, for he felt he needed support, he said, "Now you mightn't believe me when I say that what you did was the best thing that could have happened."
"Oh, Mr. Blenheim!" Her head moved in wide unbelieving sweeps.
"It's true. It's true, Ada. You've done me a great service."
"Oh, Mr. Blenheim, if only I could believe you, but I cant't; it's just because you're kind. "
"Kindness nothing, Ada. Look, I'm telling you." He reached out and took her hand.
"You won't understand this, but I want you to believe me. Because of your concern and what you did you've given me a kind of strength, power you could say." He didn't use the word his mind suggested, 'handle'.
"Yes, that's the right word, " power", that I didn't have yesterday."
And this was true, for if Miss Bateman hadn't heard of his connection with Betty Ray it was more than unlikely he'd ever have heard of her connection with Rippon.
She dried one eye after the other, then stared at him, her whole face showing perplexity now.
"I can't explain anything more to you, Ada, but I just want you to believe that you've done me a service. That's what you wanted to do in the first place, wasn't it?"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Blenheim. And as I've said, I was so worried about you because I could see by your face when you got those lercers w. /""
"- " 1------ ""
"" -"" "" "" "
"" '- "" " AH were from .. " j "How did you find out, Ada?" |
"Well'--her head drooped--'by the writing on the envelope,! comparing it." | "You're very astute, Ada." I "No, not really, Mr. Blenheim, but... but when you're worried j about someone' ... Her voice trailed away then she blew her, nose and went on, " I knew enough about you to know that you would never get mixed up with a person like her, not off yourj own bat; there must have been something. "
"There was, Ada, but, but it's difficult to explain." 's "Oh, Mr.
Blenheim'--her lids were blinking rapidly--'you've no need to explain.
But she's no good, Mr. Blenheim. But perhaps you know that already."
S "Well, I know very little about her really; I've only seen her i three times." He pursed his lips.
"The last twice following the;
"Private and Personal" letters. "
"Oh," she seemed surprised.
"Then you won't know that her mother's done time for soliciting ... and shop-lifting?" His face stretched a little as he said, "No, I didn't, Ada."
"How that one ever became a typist at all passes my comprehension; commonness is sticking out all over her. Oh! " she put her hand to her cheek again.
"I shouldn't say all this but I feel I can, knowing your feelings are not concerned. They're not, are they, Mr. Blenheim?"
She was agitated and on the point of tears again and he took her hand and "patted it, saying, " No, of course not, Ada. There now, no more tears, let's forget about it. But before the subject is closed, I'll say again that I'm grateful for your concern. "
"Thank you, Mr. Blenheim. But there's just one more thing I'd like to know. Will ... will there be any repercussions for you because of your father-in-law knowing?"
"I shouldn't think so, Ada." His voice was firm as he got to his feet.
"In fact, I'm sure there won't be. Now'--he bent over her--'do you think you could get us a strong cup of tea on the side?"
She fluttered to her feet, saying, "Oh yes, Mr. Blenheim. Yes, " For both of us," he added and she hurried away still sniffing but apparently reassured and he thought: Poor Ada, she was a small cog in the wheel of his life but her concern for him had gummed up the works.
He was standing in Dave Rippon's outer office at twenty- eight minutes past four. There was no one there. At twenty ;
minutes to five, as he was pacing up and down before Miss Bateman's desk, the door opened and she came in, alone. Going straight to her desk she put down a pad and some papers, and without looking up she said, "He'll keep you waiting another twenty minutes or so. I'm leaving at five, a very unusual procedure for me following a Board meeting. It's what you might call working to rule." She glanced up at him, her eyes cold and hard now.
He asked her quietly, "What will you do?"
"Do?" Her chin came up high.
"I'll become secretary in another firm.
That'll be no problem. I don't know whether you've realised it or not, Mr. Blenheim, but I've practically run this business over the past ten years. " Her voice was steely.
"I have realised it, Miss Bateman."
He noticed now that in spite of her tone her whole body was quivering, her hands, her shoulders, her head, it was like an ague. Her hands began fumbling at the papers on the desk; she opened and closed drawers; she rose from her seat three times in succession and went to the filing -cabinet, flicked over folios but did not take anything out.
He felt he couldn't bear to watch her any longer. Her calmness had entirely deserted her and she looked possessed of a growing fury.
He went to the window and stood looking out.
About three minutes to five she bounced up from the chair and, going to a cupboard, took out her hat and coat and handbag. She pulled on her hat without looking in a mirror and the result was slightly askew.
As she got into her coat she said, "If
sure to, tell . tell him, I told you, just that. " She emphasised the last three words with accompanying dips of her head.
He stared pityingly at her as she fumbled with her bag. There wasn't a shred of her usual composure left. He said softly, "What can I say, Miss Bateman?" and she turned to him and said, "What? What do you mean?"
"I'm ... I'm so sorry."
Her lips worked soundlessly before she said, "You shouldn't be sorry for me, Mr. Blenheim, you shouldn't waste your pity on fools. But then you've been a bit of one yourself, haven't you?" When she made an effort to smile, even grimly, it was as if her skin had become stiff and was cracking in the process. As she went towards the door it was suddenly opened an
Y-Yes, Mr. Rippon, I'm off. "
He glanced quickly at Harry, then looked back at his secretary, questioning now.
"You not feeling well ... Miss Bateman?"
"I never felt better, Mr. Rippon, and never more sane."
Again he glanced at Harry, furtively now, but his gaze was jerked back to her when she said, "I'm leaving early because I'm going away for the week-end. It's a long time since I went away for a week-end, Mr.
Rippon, but now I feel I need a change. Good night, Mr. Rippon." Her voice and manner were touched with hysteria now. She moved towards the door; then, her head jerking round, she said, "Good night, Mr.
Harry did not answer, he merely acknowledged her words with a small movement of his head; then he watched his father-in-law stare at the closed door that she had almost scraped past his face.
But now Dave Rippon was recovering himself. Definitely his mistress's attitude had astounded him, but he was covering it up well. He passed Harry without looking at him and, going into his own office, he called over his shoulder, "Well come on;
let's get this over. "
In the inner office Harry didn't wait to be asked to sit down.
oeaa opposite his tat her-in-law and sat down. 4,* "Now Dave Rippon rubbed the palms of his hands to-'.i get her as if about to relish a meal: then he moved from one ?" buttock to another before he said,
"What I've got to say to you'l isn't going to be pleasant hearing." He waited, staring across the 3 desk into his son-in-law's straight face.
"You've been up to some- j thing, haven't you?" I Harry made no movement. He did not even blink his eyes. ) He kept them fixed on the pale blue ones glaring into his. ~' "Well I what's the matter with you, man. You've heard what I said.
You've been up to something. Keeping your tongue glued down isn't going to help. I'm going to start by telling you, you should be damned-well ashamed of yourself. "