'But what would you have to do?' Alison wanted to know.
'Well, that's it. I'd have to travel. Go to New York, Hong Kong, Japan. Rustle up new markets. I'd be away a lot. You'd be on your own even more than you are now. And then we'd have to reciprocate. I mean, if foreign buyers came to see us, we'd have to look after them, entertain . . . you know the sort of thing.’
She thought about this, lying warmly in his arms, in the dark, with the window open and the cool country air blowing in on her face. She said, 'I wouldn't like you being away a lot, but I could bear it. I wouldn't be lonely, because of having the children. And I'd know that you'd always come back to me.’
He kissed her. He said, 'Did I ever tell you I loved you?'
'Once or twice.’
He said, 'I want that job. I could do it. And I want to get this mortgage off our backs, and take the children to Brittany for their summer holidays, and maybe pay some man to dig that ruddy garden for us.’
'Don't say such things.’ Alison laid her fingers against Henry's mouth. 'Don't talk about them. We mustn't count chickens.’
This nocturnal conversation had taken place a month or so before, and they hadn't talked about Henry's possible promotion again. But a week ago, Mr Fairhurst, who was Henry's chairman, had taken Henry out to lunch at his club. Henry found it hard to believe that Mr Fairhurst was standing him this excellent meal simply for the pleasure of Henry's company, but they were eating delicious blue-veined Stilton and drinking a glass of port before Mr Fairhurst finally came to the point. He asked after Alison and the children. Henry told him they were very well.
'Good for children, living in the country. Does Alison like it there?'
'Yes. She's made a lot of friends in the village.’
That's good. That's very good.' Thoughtfully, the older man helped himself to more Stilton. 'Never really met Alison.’ He sounded as though he was ruminating to himself, not addressing any particular remark to Henry. 'Seen her, of course, at the office dance, but that scarcely counts. Like to see your new house . . . '
His voice trailed off. He looked up. Henry, across the starched tablecloth and gleaming silverware, met his eyes. He realised that Mr Fairhurst was angling for - indeed, expected - a social invitation.
He cleared his throat and said, 'Perhaps you and Mrs Fairhurst would come down and have dinner with us one evening?'
'Well,’ said the chairman, looking surprised and delighted as if it had all been Henry's idea. 'How very nice. I'm sure Mrs Fairhurst would like that very much.’,
'I'll . . . I'll tell Alison to give her a ring. They can fix a date.’
'We're being vetted, aren't we? For the new job.’ said Alison, when he broke the news. 'For all the entertaining of those foreign clients. They want to know if I can cope, if I'm socially up to it.’
‘Put like that, it sounds pretty soulless, but . . . yes, I suppose that is what it's all about.’
'Does it have to be terribly grand?'
'Well, he is the chairman.’
'Don't look like that. I can't bear it when you look like that.’
'Oh, Henry.’ She wondered if she was going to cry, but he pulled her into his arms and hugged her and she found she wasn't going to cry after all. Over the top of her head, he said, 'Perhaps we are being vetted, but surely that's a good sign. It's better than being simply ignored.’
'Yes, I suppose so.’ After a little, 'There's one good thing,’ said Alison. 'At least we've got a dining room.’
The next morning she made the telephone call to Mrs Fairhurst, and, trying not to sound too nervous, duly asked Mrs Fairhurst and her husband for dinner. Oh, how very kind, Mrs Fairhurst seemed genuinely surprised, as though this was the first she had heard of it.
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