Master Of The Game EPILOGUE

Kate

1982

36

It seemed to Kate that the wheel of time was spinning faster, hurrying the days along, blending winter into spring and summer into autumn, until all the seasons and years blurred into one. She was in her late eighties now. Eighty what? Sometimes she forgot her exact age. She could face growing old, but she could not face the idea of growing old and slovenly, and she took great pains with her appearance. When she looked in the mirror, she saw a neat, erect figure of a woman, proud and indomitable.

She still went to her office every day, but it was a gesture, a ruse to ward off death. She attended every board meeting, but things were no longer as clear as they once had been. Everyone around her seemed to be speaking too rapidly. The most disturbing thing to Kate was that her mind played tricks on her. The past and present were constantly intermingling. Her world was closing in, becoming smaller and smaller.

If there was a lifeline that Kate clutched, a driving force that kept her alive, it was her passionate conviction that someone in the family must one day take charge of Kruger-Brent. Kate had no intention of letting outsiders take over what Jamie McGregor and Margaret and she and David had suffered and toiled so long and so hard for. Eve, on whom Kate had twice pinned such high hopes, was a murderer. And a grotesque. Kate had not had to punish her. She had seen Eve once. What had been done to her was punishment enough.

On the day Eve had seen her face in the mirror, she had tried to commit suicide. She had swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills, but Keith had pumped out her stomach and brought her home, where he hovered over her constantly. When he had to be at the hospital, day and night nurses guarded her.

’’Please let me die,’’ Eve begged her husband. ’’Please, Keith! I don't want to live like this.’’

’’You belong to me now,’’ Keith told her, ’’and I'll always love you.’’

The image of what her face looked like was etched in Eve's brain. She persuaded Keith to dismiss the nurses. She did not want anyone around her looking at her, staring at her.

Alexandra called again and again, but Eve refused to see her. All deliveries were left outside the front door so no one could see her face. The only person who saw her was Keith. He was, finally, the only one she had left. He was her only link with the world, and she became terrified that he would leave her, that she would be left alone with nothing but her ugliness - her unbearable ugliness.

Every morning at five o'clock, Keith arose to go to the hospital or clinic, and Eve was always up before him to fix his breakfast. She cooked dinner for him every night, and when he was late, she was filled with apprehension. What if he had found some other woman? What if he did not return to her?

When she heard his key in the door, she would rush to open it and go into his arms, holding him tightly. She never suggested they make love because she was afraid he might refuse, but when he did make love to her, Eve felt as though he was bestowing upon her a wonderful kindness.

Once she asked, timidly, ’’Darling, haven't you punished me enough? Won't you repair my face?’’ He looked at her and said proudly, ’’It can never be repaired.’’

As time went on, Keith became more demanding, more peremptory, until Eve was finally and completely a slave to him, catering to his every whim. Her ugliness bound her to him more strongly than iron chains.

Alexandra and Peter had had a son, Robert, a bright, handsome boy. He reminded Kate of Tony when he was a child. Robert was almost eight now, and precocious for his age. Very precocious indeed, Kate thought. A really remarkable boy.

All the members of the family received their invitations on the same day. The invitation read: MRS. KATE BLACKWELL REQUESTS THE HONOR OF YOUR PRESENCE TO CELEBRATE HER NINETIETH BIRTHDAY AT CEDAR HILL HOUSE, DARK HARBOR, MAINE, ON SEPTEMBER 24, 1982, AT EIGHT O'CLOCK. BLACK TIE.

When Keith read the invitation, he looked at Eve and said, ’’We're going.’’

’’Oh, no! I can't! You go. I'll - ’’

He said, ’’We're both going.’’

Tony Blackwell was in the garden of the sanitarium, painting, when his companion approached. ’’A letter for you, Tony.’’

Tony opened the envelope, and a vague smile lighted his face. ’’That's nice,’’ he said. ’’I like birthday parties.’’

Peter Templeton studied the invitation. ’’I can't believe the old girl's ninety years old. She's really amazing.’’

’’Yes, isn't she?’’ Alexandra agreed. And she added thoughtfully, ’’Do you know something sweet? Robert received his own invitation, addressed to him.’’

37

The overnight guests had long since departed by ferry and plane, and the family was gathered in the library at Cedar Hill. Kate looked at those in the room, one by one, and she saw each with remarkable clarity. Tony, the smiling, vaguely amiable vegetable who had tried to kill her, the son who had been so full of promise and hope. Eve, the murderer, who could have owned the world if she had not had the seed of evil in her. How ironic it was, Kate thought, that her terrible punishment had come from the meek little nonentity she married. And then there was Alexandra. Beautiful, affectionate and kind - the bitterest disappointment of all. She had put her own happiness before the welfare of the company. She was not interested in Kruger-Brent and had chosen a husband who refused to have anything to do with the company. Traitors, both of them. Had all the pain of the past gone for nothing? No, Kate thought. I won't let it end like this. It's not all been wasted. I've built a proud dynasty. A hospital in Cape Town is named after me. I've built schools and libraries and helped Banda's people. Her head was beginning to hurt. The room was slowly filling with ghosts. Jamie McGregor and Margaret - looking so beautiful - and Banda smiling at her. And dear, wonderful David, holding out his arms. Kate shook her head to clear it. She was not ready for any of them yet. Soon, she thought. Soon.

There was one more member of the family in the room. She turned to her handsome young great-grandson and said, ’’Come here, darling.’’

Robert walked up to her and took her hand.

’’It sure was a great birthday party, Gran.’’

’’Thank you, Robert. I'm glad you enjoyed it. How are you getting along in school?’’

’’All A's, like you told me to get. I'm at the head of my class.’’

Kate looked at Peter. ’’You should send Robert to the Wharton School when he's old enough. It's the best - ’’

Peter laughed. ’’For God's sake, Kate, my darling, don't you ever give up? Robert's going to do exactly what he likes. He has a remarkable musical talent, and he wants to be a classical musician. He's going to choose his own life.’’

’’You're right,’’ Kate sighed. ’’I'm an old woman, and I have no right to interfere. If he wants to be a musician, that's what he should be.’’ She turned to the boy, and her eyes shone with love. ’’Mind you, Robert, I can't promise anything, but I'm going to try to help you. I know someone who's a dear friend of Zubin Mehta.’’


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