Master of the Game

Chapter 24


During the next two years, Kate became seriously concerned about Alexandra. The child was definitely accident-prone. During Eve and Alexandra's summer vacation at the Blackwell estate in the Bahamas, Alexandra almost drowned while playing with Eve in the pool, and it was only the prompt intervention of a gardener that saved her. The following year when the two girls were on a picnic in the Palisades, Alexandra somehow slipped off the edge of a cliff and saved herself by clinging to a shrub growing out of the steep mountainside.
"I wish you would keep a closer eye on your sister," Kate told Eve. "She can't seem to take care of herself the way you can."
"I know," Eve said solemnly. "I'll watch her, Gran."
Kate loved both her granddaughters, but in different ways. They were seven years old now, and identically beautiful, with long, soft blond hair, exquisite features and the McGregor eyes. They looked alike, but their personalities were quite different. Alexandra's gentleness reminded Kate of Tony, while Eve was more like her, headstrong and self-sufficient.
A chauffeur drove them to school in the family Rolls-Royce. Alexandra was embarrassed to have her classmates see her with the car and chauffeur; Eve reveled in it. Kate gave each girl a weekly allowance, and ordered them to keep a record of how they spent it. Eve invariably ran short of money before the week was out and borrowed from Alexandra. Eve learned to adjust the books so that Gran would not know. But Kate knew, and she could hardly hold back her smile. Seven years old and already a creative accountant!
In the beginning, Kate had nurtured a secret dream that one day Tony would be well again, that he would leave the asylum and return to Kruger-Brent. But as time passed, the dream slowly faded. It was tacitly understood that while Tony might leave the asylum for short visits, accompanied by a male nurse, he would never again be able to participate in the outside world.
It was 1962, and as Kruger-Brent, Ltd., prospered and expanded, the demands for new leadership grew more urgent. Kate celebrated her seventieth birthday. Her hair was white now, and she was a remarkable figure of a woman, strong and erect and vital. She was aware that the attrition of time would overtake her. She had to be prepared. The company had to be safeguarded for the family. Brad Rogers was a good manager, but he was not a Blackwell. I have to last until the twins can take over. She thought of Cecil Rhodes's last words: "So little done - so much to do."
The twins were twelve years old, on the verge of becoming young ladies. Kate had spent as much time with them as she possibly could, but now she turned even more of her attention to them. It was time to make an important decision.
During Easter week, Kate and the twins flew to Dark Harbor in a company plane. The girls had visited all the family estates except the one in Johannesburg, and of them all, Dark Harbor was their favorite. They enjoyed the wild freedom and the seclusion of the island. They loved to sail and swim and water-ski, and Dark Harbor held all these things for them. Eve asked if she could bring some schoolmates along, as she had in the past, but this time her grandmother refused. Grandmother, that powerful, imposing figure who swept in and out, dropping off a present here, a kiss on the cheek there, with occasional admonitions about how young ladies behaved, wanted to be alone with them. This time the girls sensed that something different was happening. Their grandmother was with them at every meal. She took them boating and swimming and even riding. Kate handled her horse with the sureness of an expert.
The girls still looked amazingly alike, two golden beauties, but Kate was interested less in their similarities than in their differences. Sitting on the veranda watching them as they finished a tennis game, Kate summed them up in her mind. Eve was the leader, Alexandra the follower. Eve had a stubborn streak. Alexandra was flexible. Eve was a natural athlete. Alexandra was still having accidents. Only a few days before, when the two girls were out alone in a small sailboat with Eve at the rudder, the wind had come behind the sail and the sail had luffed, swinging it crashing toward Alexandra's head. She had not gotten out of the way in time and had been swept overboard and nearly drowned. Another boat nearby had assisted Eve in rescuing her sister. Kate wondered whether all these things could have anything to do with Alexandra having been born three minutes later than Eve, but the reasons did not matter. Kate had made her decision. There was no longer any question in her mind. She was putting her money on Eve, and it was a ten-billion-dollar bet. She would find a perfect consort for Eve, and when Kate retired, Eve would run Kruger-Brent. As for Alexandra, she would have a life of wealth and comfort. She might be very good working on the charitable grants Kate had set up. Yes, that would be perfect for Alexandra. She was such a sweet and compassionate child.
The first step toward implementing Kate's plan was to see that Eve got into the proper school. Kate chose Briarcrest, an excellent school in South Carolina. "Both my granddaughters are delightful," Kate informed Mrs. Chandler, the headmistress. "But you'll find that Eve is the clever one. She's an extraordinary girl, and I'm sure you'll see to it that she has every advantage here."
"All our students have every advantage here, Mrs. Blackwell. You spoke of Eve. What about her sister?"
"Alexandra? A lovely girl." It was a pejorative. Kate stood up. "I shall be checking their progress regularly."
In some odd way, the headmistress felt the words were a warning.
Eve and Alexandra adored the new school, particularly Eve. She enjoyed the freedom of being away from home, of not having to account to her grandmother and Solange Dunas. The rules at Briarcrest were strict, but that did not bother Eve, for she was adept at getting around rules. The only thing that disturbed her was that Alexandra was there with her. When Eve first heard the news about Briarcrest, she begged, "May I go alone? Please, Gran?"
And Kate said, "No, darling. I think it's better if Alexandra goes with you."
Eve concealed her resentment. "Whatever you say, Gran."
She was always very polite and affectionate around her grandmother. Eve knew where the power lay. Their father was a crazy man, locked up in an insane asylum. Their mother was dead. It was their grandmother who controlled the money. Eve knew they were rich. She had no idea how much money there was, but it was a lot - enough to buy all the beautiful things she wanted. Eve loved beautiful things. There was only one problem: Alexandra.
One of the twins' favorite activities at Briarcrest School was the morning riding class. Most of the girls owned their own jumpers, and Kate had given each twin one for her twelfth birthday. Jerome Davis, the riding instructor, watched as his pupils went through their paces in the ring, jumping over a one-foot stile, then a two-foot stile and finally a four-foot stile. Davis was one of the best riding teachers in the country. Several of his former pupils had gone on to win gold medals, and he was adept at spotting a natural-born rider. The new girl, Eve Blackwell, was a natural. She did not have to think about what she was doing, how to hold the reins or post in the saddle. She and her horse were one, and as they sailed over the hurdles, Eve's golden hair flying in the wind, it was a beautiful sight to behold. Nothing's going to stop that one, Mr. Davis thought.
Tommy, the young groom, favored Alexandra. Mr. Davis watched Alexandra saddle up her horse, preparing for her turn. Alexandra and Eve wore different-colored ribbons on their sleeves so he could tell them apart. Eve was helping Alexandra saddle her horse while Tommy was busy with another student. Davis was summoned to the main building for a telephone call, and what happened after that was a matter of great confusion.
From what Jerome Davis was able to piece together later, Alexandra mounted her horse, circled the ring and started toward the first low jump. Her horse inexplicably began rearing and bucking, and threw Alexandra into a wall. She was knocked unconscious, and it was only by inches that the wild horse's hooves missed her face. Tommy carried Alexandra to the infirmary, where the school doctor diagnosed a mild concussion.
"Nothing broken, nothing serious," he said. "By tomorrow morning, she'll be right as rain, ready to get up on her horse again."
"But she could have been killed!" Eve screamed.
Eve refused to leave Alexandra's side. Mrs. Chandler thought she had never seen such devotion in a sister. It was truly touching.
When Mr. Davis was finally able to corral Alexandra's horse to unsaddle it, he found the saddle blanket stained with blood. He lifted it off and discovered a large piece of jagged metal from a beer can still protruding from the horse's back, where it had been pressed down by the saddle. When he reported this to Mrs. Chandler, she started an immediate investigation. All the girls who had been in the vicinity of the stable were questioned.
"I'm sure," Mrs. Chandler said, "that whoever put that piece of metal there thought she was playing a harmless prank, but it could have led to very serious consequences. I want the name of the girl who did it."
When no one volunteered, Mrs. Chandler talked to them in her office, one by one. Each girl denied any knowledge of what had happened. When it was Eve's turn to be questioned, she seemed oddly ill at ease.
"Do you have any idea who could have done this to your sister?" Mrs. Chandler asked.
Eve looked down at the rug. "I'd rather not say," she mumbled.
"Then you did see something?"
"Please, Mrs. Chandler..."
"Eve, Alexandra could have been seriously hurt. The girl who did this must be punished so that it does not happen again."
"It wasn't one of the girls."
"What do you mean?"
"It was Tommy."
"The groom?"
"Yes, ma'am. I saw him. I thought he was just tightening the cinch. I'm sure he didn't mean any harm. Alexandra orders him around a lot, and I guess he wanted to teach her a lesson. Oh, Mrs. Chandler, I wish you hadn't made me tell you. I don't want to get anyone in trouble." The poor child was on the verge of hysteria.
Mrs. Chandler walked around the desk and put her arm around her. "It's all right, Eve. You did right to tell me. Now you just forget about everything. I'll take care of it."
The following morning when the girls went out to the stables, there was a new groom.
A few months later, there was another unpleasant incident at the school. Several of the girls had been caught smoking marijuana and one of them accused Eve of supplying it and selling it. Eve angrily denied it. A search by Mrs. Chandler revealed marijuana hidden in Alexandra's locker.
"I don't believe she did it," Eve said stoutly. "Someone put it there. I know it."
An account of the incident was sent to Kate by the headmistress, and Kate admired Eve's loyalty in shielding her sister. She was a McGregor, all right.
On the twins' fifteenth birthday, Kate took them to the estate in South Carolina, where she gave a large party for them. It was not too early to see to it that Eve was exposed to the proper young men, and every eligible young man around was invited to the girls' party.
The boys were at the awkward age where they were not yet seriously interested in girls, but Kate made it her business to see that acquaintances were made and friendships formed. Somewhere among these young boys could be the man in Eve's future, the future of Kruger-Brent, Ltd.
Alexandra did not enjoy parties, but she always pretended she was having a good time in order not to disappoint her grandmother. Eve adored parties. She loved dressing up, being admired. Alexandra preferred reading and painting. She spent hours looking at her father's paintings at Dark Harbor, and she wished she could have known him before he became ill. He appeared at the house on holidays with his male companion, but Alexandra found it impossible to reach her father. He was a pleasant, amiable stranger who wanted to please, but had nothing to say. Their grandfather, Frederick Hoffman, lived in Germany, but was ill. The twins seldom saw him.
In her second year at school, Eve became pregnant. For several weeks she had been pale and listless and had missed some morning classes. When she began to have frequent periods of nausea, she was sent to the infirmary and examined. Mrs. Chandler had been hastily summoned.
"Eve is pregnant," the doctor told her.
"But - that's impossible! How could it have happened?"
The doctor replied mildly, "In the usual fashion, I would presume."
"But she's just a child."
"Well, this child is going to be a mother."
Eve bravely refused to talk. "I don't want to get anyone in trouble," she kept saying.
It was the kind of answer Mrs. Chandler expected from Eve.
"Eve, dear, you must tell me what happened."
And so at last Eve broke down. "I was raped," she said, and burst into tears.
Mrs. Chandler was shocked. She held Eve's trembling body close to her and demanded, "Who was it?"
"Mr. Parkinson."
Her English teacher.
If it had been anyone else but Eve, Mrs. Chandler would not have believed it. Joseph Parkinson was a quiet man with a wife and three children. He had taught at Briarcrest School for eight years, and he was the last one Mrs. Chandler would have ever suspected. She called him into her office, and she knew instantly that Eve had told the truth. He sat facing her, his face twitching with nervousness.
"You know why I've sent for you, Mr. Parkinson?"
"I - I think so."
"It concerns Eve."
"Yes. I - I guessed that."
"She says you raped her."
Parkinson looked at her in disbelief. "Raped her? My God! If anyone was raped, it was me." In his excitement he lapsed into the ungrammatical.
Mrs. Chandler said contemptuously, "Do you know what you're saying? That child is - "
"She's not a child." His voice was venomous. "She's a devil." He wiped the perspiration from his brow. "All semester she sat in the front row of my class, with her dress hiked up. After class she would come up and ask a lot of meaningless questions while she rubbed herself against me. I didn't take her seriously. Then one afternoon about six weeks ago she came over to my house when my wife and children were away and - " His voice broke. "Oh, Jesus! I couldn't help it." He burst into tears.
They brought Eve into the office. Her manner was composed. She looked into Mr. Parkinson's eyes, and it was he who turned away first. In the office were Mrs. Chandler, the assistant principal and the chief of police of the small town where the school was located.
The chief of police said gently, "Do you want to tell us what happened, Eve?"
"Yes, sir." Eve's voice was calm. "Mr. Parkinson said he wanted to discuss my English work with me. He asked me to come to his house on a Sunday afternoon. He was alone in the house. He said he wanted to show me something in the bedroom, so I followed him upstairs. He forced me onto the bed, and he - "
"It's a lie!" Parkinson yelled. "That's not the way it happened. That's not the way it happened..."
Kate was sent for, and the situation was explained to her. It was decided that it was in everyone's interest to keep the incident quiet. Mr. Parkinson was dismissed from the school and given forty-eight hours to leave the state. An abortion was discreetly arranged for Eve.
Kate quietly bought up the school mortgage, carried by a local bank, and foreclosed.
When Eve heard the news, she sighed, "I'm so sorry, Gran. I really liked that school."
A few weeks later when Eve had recovered from her operation, she and Alexandra were registered at L'Institut Fernwood, a Swiss finishing school near Lausanne.