The Letter by R.T. Hardwick

The envelope containing the letter lay untouched on Mr Honeysett’s desk, its creases marked by dust. He looked at it with much indecision, then let it lie. There was a tragic story behind the letter, a story he was not prepared to divulge. There was a tap on his office door. 

'Come in,' he barked. 

His assistant, Grant Kingston, entered. He was a tall young man with a slight stoop, as if he were accustomed to bending his head to avoid low doors. He wore a pair of round spectacles and his face always bore a pleasant, honest expression. 

'Yes, Kingston, what is it?' demanded Mr Honeysett. 'I need you to sign these cheques, Mr Honeysett.' 

Grant eyed the envelope. He saw it on the desk every single day, and, being of a curious disposition (Mr Honeysett’s personal secretary, Miss Tremlett called him 'nosy') was desperate to learn its contents. Mr Honeysett always locked his door whenever he left the office and Kingston had no key, so his opportunities to examine the letter were non-existent. 

'Set the cheques down there,' said Mr Honeysett. 'I will sign them later.' 

Grant placed the cheques next to the envelope. His hand trembled. If only he could move it slightly to one side, he could snatch up the envelope without Mr Honeysett noticing. If only... 

'Is there anything else, Kingston?' 

'No sir.' 

'Then I would be grateful if you would leave. I am rather busy just now.' 'Very good, sir.' 

Grant walked backwards out of the office, bowing slightly as he did so. Crotchety old buffer. Why do I continue to work for him? 

Miss Tremlett looked at Grant with a jaundiced eye as he entered her annexe. She loathed Grant with all her being. Perhaps it was because Grant was young, full of enthusiasm and optimism and Miss Tremlett was humourless, devoid of character and had faded into middle-age without being able to recall a single moment of enjoyment in her entire life. 

'You did not disturb Mr Honeycutt, I trust?' she asked, every syllable dripping with venom. Grant deigned to answer. He was thinking about the letter. 

Something from his past, perhaps? Something he wanted to keep hidden but which he could not bear to be without? Why leave it in full view of everyone? 

'I asked you a question,' said Miss Tremlett, 'be so kind as to answer it.' 

'What? Don't bother me now with your trivia. I have far too much on my mind to waste my time talking to you.' 

'You know, Mr Kingston, that you are an insufferable human being.' 

'And you, Miss Tremlett, are a dried-up old prune.' Miss Tremlett gasped in amazement. 

'I will inform Mr Honeysett of your insolence. It is high time you were disciplined for your attitude towards me.' 

'Go ahead,' said Grant, as he left the office. 'Doubtless he thinks you're a dried-up old prune as well.' 

Seated at his sumptuous mahogany desk, Mr Honeysett picked up each cheque and studied it as if it were an Old Master, before adding his scrawled signature to the bottom. Once he had finished, he picked up a telephone. 

'Kingston. I have signed the cheques. You may collect them and then ask Miss Tremlett to send them to the relevant recipients.' 

'As you wish, sir.' 

Afier Grant had collected the cheques and passed them over to Miss Tremlett, who took them with very bad grace, Mr Honeysett walked over to a cabinet alongside the far wall and withdrew a bottle and glass. He poured himself a generous measure of scotch and sat down to drink it. It was three 'o' clock in the afternoon. He picked up the envelope, extracted the letter and stared at it as if it were some mysterious palimpsest written in a language he could not understand. 

Why, oh why? So much misery. So much heartache. Never to be forgotten. A weight on my shoulders that can never be lightened. 

The whisky tasted sour and Mr Honeysett twisted his face. It wasn't like that in the old days. Scotch was smooth. It went down like honey. Now it tasted like grit and ashes in his mouth. Nevertheless, he needed the alcohol to restore his energy, so he drained the glass and returned it and the bottle to the cupboard. 

Mr Honeysett made a decision to leave work early. He piled some papers into a leather briefcase. He could deal with them at home. As he began to turn the key to lock his office door, he was distracted by the mouse-like approach of Miss Tremlett. 

'I'm sorry to disturb you, Mr Honeysett,’ said his secretary, ‘but Mr Reece has just telephoned. He says it's urgent. He's still on the line. As you've locked up, you can take it in my room.' 

Miss Tremlett was wrong. Mr Honeysett had been too badly distracted by her appearance to finish locking his office door. Instead, he followed her into her annexe. 

He dealt quickly with the irate Reece, who was as tiresome a customer as one would wish to meet, and turned to Miss Tremlett. 

'Where is Kingston?' 

'I believe he is in his office, Mr Honeysett. However, he might be lying. He is not reliable. I don't know why you keep him on.' 

'I have my reasons. I will see him in the morning. Good Afternoon, Miss Tremlett.' 'Good Afternoon, sir.' 

At around half-past four, Grant wandered along the corridor to Mr Honeysett's office. Miss Tremlett was away at a nearby postbox, posting the day's cheques. Out of habit, Grant tried his door. To his surprise, it opened. Even though he knew Mr Honeysett had gone home, Grant's fear and dread of his superior was such that he was reluctant to enter. However, driven by an insatiable desire to find out what was written in the letter, he tiptoed across the plush carpet to Mr Honeysett's desk. 

Grant stared at the envelope for several seconds before plucking up the courage to pick it up. At last he made a grab for it. The envelope was plain, white. Its crumpled nature was evidence it had been carried in a pocket for some time. Grant withdrew a single sheet of 

lined cream notepaper. The handwriting was indistinct. It looked as if the writer had simply picked up some words and flung them onto the page. Grant adjusted his spectacles but even so he found it difficult to make out the narrative. The letter was dated thirty years previously. It was brief. It read: 

My Dearest. I am not long for this world. The strain of childbirth has led to my inevitable demise. The doctor says it will be a matter of days. When you return from India, I must abjure you to take care of the child. He is the innocent in all of this. If only things could have been different and we could have avoided this secrecy. I suppose your career comes first. Please promise me you will look after him. He must never know of the circumstances of his birth. Give him up for adoption, if you must, but make sure he wants for nothing. I am weak, my precious, and my time grows short. Goodbye forever. Yours, Arabella. 

Grant placed the letter tenderly back into the envelope and stood with it in his hands. The door opened and Mr Honeysett stood framed in the entrance. 

'I forgot to take away a report upon which I was working,’ he said. ‘When I return, Kingston, I find you rifling through the contents of my desk. Perhaps you would be good enough to provide me with an explana...' 

Mr Honeysett saw the letter which Grant, in his panic, had dropped onto the floor. 

'I-I-I...was curious,' said Grant. 'I see this every day and I was overcome with a strange desire to view its contents. When I found the door was unlocked...' 

Mr Honeysett walked over and picked up the letter. 'You read this?' 

Grant nodded. 

‘What do you make of it?' 

Mr Honeysett's tone was guarded. 'It concerns you?' asked Grant. 

Mr Honeysett nodded. 

'A child born out of wedlock?' Mr Honeysett nodded again. 

'The poor woman, Arabella, was your lover. She died?' 

Mr Honeysett nodded and tears began to form behind his eyes. 

'Arabella was the love of my life,’ he said. ‘I was away in Bombay, heading an export drive for the company, when she was taken. I curse myself every day for my behaviour. That is why I keep that letter on my desk in full sight, to remind myself how dreadful a man I have been.' 

'And the child?' 

'I made sure I followed Arabella's plea to have him looked after,' said Mr Honeysett. 'I owed her that, at least.' 

'The child will be a man of about thirty now,' said Grant. 'Does he have a name?' 

Mr Honeysett regarded Grant with the steady gaze of an astronomer. 'Yes,' he said, 'his name is Grant Kingston.' 

Published in Issue #25

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