On her ninetieth birthday, Kate, an enigmatic and ruthless businesswoman, goes back to the past and relives the history of all her family members, especially her father's. Master of the Game ...(more)
The few times David saw Kate during that vacation she was surrounded by boys, and he found himself wondering which would be the lucky one. David was called back to Australia on business, and when he returned to Klipdrift, Kate was on her way to England. In Kate's last year of school, David appeared unexpectedly one evening. Usually his visits were preceded by a letter or a telephone call. This time there had been no warning.
"David! What a wonderful surprise!" Kate hugged him. "You should have told me you were coming. I would have--"
"Kate, I've come to take you home."
She pulled back and looked up at him. "Is something wrong?"
"I'm afraid your mother is very ill."
Kate stood stark still for a moment. "I'll get ready."
Kate was shocked by her mother's appearance. She had seen her only a few months earlier, and Margaret had seemed to be in robust health. Now she was pale and emaciated, and the bright spirit had gone out of her eyes. It was as though the cancer that was eating at her flesh had also eaten at her soul. Kate sat at the side of the bed and held her mother's hand in hers.
"Oh, Mother," she said. "I'm so bloody sorry."
Margaret squeezed her daughter's hand. "I'm ready, darling. I suppose I've been ready ever since your father died."
She looked up at Kate. "Do you want to hear something silly? I've never told this to a living soul before." She hesitated, then went on. "I've always been worried that there was no one to take proper care of your father. Now I can do it."
Margaret was buried three days later. Her mother's death shook Kate deeply. She had lost her father and a brother, but she had never known them; they were only storied figments of the past. Her mother's death was real and painful. Kate was eighteen years old and suddenly alone in the world, and the thought of that was frightening. David watched her standing at her mother's graveside, bravely fighting not to cry. But when they returned to the house, Kate broke down, unable to stop sobbing.
"She was always so w-wonderful to me, David, and I was such a r-rotten daughter." David tried to console her.
"You've been a wonderful daughter, Kate."
"I was n-nothing b-but trouble. I'd give anything if I could m-make it up to her. I didn't want her to die, David! Why did God do this to her?"
He waited, letting Kate cry herself out. When she was calmer, David said, "I know it's hard to believe now, but one day this pain will go away. And you know what you'll be left with, Kate? Happy memories. You'll remember all the good things you and your mother had."
"I suppose so. Only right now it hurts so b-bloody much."
The following morning they discussed Kate's future.
"You have family in Scotland," David reminded her.
"No!" Kate replied sharply. "They're not family. They're relatives." Her voice was bitter. "When Father wanted to come to this country, they laughed at him. No one would help him except his mother, and she's dead. No. I won't have anything to do with them."
David sat there thinking. "Do you plan to finish out the school term?" Before Kate could answer, David went on. "I think your mother would have wanted you to."
"Then I'll do it." She looked down at the floor, her eyes unseeing. "Bloody hell," Kate said.
"I know," David said gently. "I know."
Kate finished the school term as class valedictorian, and David was there for the graduation. Riding from Johannesburg to Klipdrift in the private railway car, David said, "You know, all this will belong to you in a few years. This car, the mines, the company--it's yours. You're a very rich young woman. You can sell the company for many millions of pounds." He looked at her and added, "Or you can keep it. You'll have to think about it."
"I have thought about it," Kate told him. She looked at him and smiled. "My father was a pirate, David. A wonderful old pirate. I wish I could have known him. I'm not going to sell this company. Do you know why? Because the pirate named it after two guards who were trying to kill him. Wasn't that a lovely thing to do? Sometimes at night when I can't sleep, I think about my father and Banda crawling through the sea mines, and I can hear the voices of the guards: Kruger... Brent..." She looked up at David. "No, I'll never sell my father's company. Not as long as you'll stay on and run it."
David said quietly, 'I'll stay as long as you need me."
'I've decided to enroll in a business school."
"A business school?" There was surprise in his voice.
"This is 1910," Kate reminded him. "They have business schools in Johannesburg where women are allowed to attend."
"You asked me what I wanted to do with my money." She looked him in the eye and said, "I want to earn it."
Business school was an exciting new adventure. When Kate had gone to Cheltenham, it had been a chore, a necessary evil. This was different. Every class taught her something useful, something that would help her when she ran the company. The courses included accounting, management, international trade and business administration. Once a week David telephoned to see how she was getting along.
"I love it," Kate told him. "It's really exciting, David."
One day she and David would be working together, side by side, late at night, all by themselves. And one of those nights, David would turn to her and say, "Kate, darling, I've been such a blind fool. Will you marry me?" And an instant later, she would be in his arms... But that would have to wait. In the meantime, she had a lot to learn. Resolutely, Kate turned to her homework. The business course lasted two years, and Kate returned to Klipdrift in time to celebrate her twentieth birthday. David met her at the station.
Impulsively, Kate flung her arms around him and hugged him. "Oh, David, I'm so happy to see you."
He pulled away and said awkwardly, "It's nice to see you, Kate."
There was an uncomfortable stiffness in his manner.
"Is something wrong?"
"No. It's--it's just that young ladies don't go around hugging men in public."
She looked at him a moment. "I see. I promise not to embarrass you again."
As they drove to the house, David covertly studied Kate. She was a hauntingly beautiful girl, innocent and vulnerable, and David was determined that he would never take advantage of that. On Monday morning Kate moved into her new office at Kruger-Brent, Ltd. It was like suddenly being plunged into some exotic and bizarre universe that had its own customs and its own language. There was a bewildering array of divisions, subsidiaries, regional departments, franchises and foreign branches. The products that the company manufactured or owned seemed endless. There were steel mills, cattle ranches, a railroad, a shipping line and, of course, the foundation of the family fortune: diamonds and gold, zinc and platinum and magnesium, mined each hour around the clock, pouring into the coffers of the company.
Power. It was almost too much to take in.
Kate sat in David's office listening to him make decisions that affected thousands of people around the world. The general managers of the various divisions made recommendations, but as often as not, David overruled them.
"Why do you do that? Don't they know their jobs?" Kate asked.
"Of course they do, but that's not the point," David explained. "Each manager sees his own division as the center of the world, and that's as it should be. But someone has to have an overall view and decide what's best for the company. Come on. We're having lunch with someone I want you to meet."
David took Kate into the large, private dining room adjoining Kate's office. A young, raw-boned man with a lean face and inquisitive brown eyes was waiting for them. "This is Brad Rogers," David said. "Brad, meet your new boss, Kate McGregor."
Brad Rogers held out his hand. "I'm pleased to meet you, Miss McGregor."
"Brad is our secret weapon," David said. "He knows as much about Kruger-Brent, Limited, as I do. If I ever leave, you don't have to worry. Brad will be here."
If I ever leave. The thought of it sent a wave of panic through Kate. Of course, David would never leave the company. Kate could think of nothing else through lunch, and when it was over she had no idea what she had eaten. After lunch, they discussed South Africa.
"We're going to run into trouble soon," David warned. "The government has just imposed poll taxes."
"Exactly what does that mean?" Kate asked.
"It means that blacks, coloreds and Indians have to pay two pounds each for every member of their family. That's more than a month's wages for them."
Kate thought about Banda and was filled with a sense of apprehension. The discussion moved on to other topics. Kate enjoyed her new life tremendously. Every decision involved a gamble of millions of pounds. Big business was a matching of wits, the courage to gamble and the instinct to know when to quit and when to press ahead.
"Business is a game," David told Kate, "played for fantastic stakes, and you're in competition with experts. If you want to win, you have to learn to be a master of the game." And that was what Kate was determined to do. Learn.
Kate lived alone in the big house, except for the servants. She and David continued their ritual Friday-night dinners, but when Kate invited him over on any other night, he invariably found an excuse not to come. During business hours they were together constantly, but even then David seemed to have erected a barrier between them, a wall that Kate was unable to penetrate. On her twenty-first birthday, all the shares in Kruger-Brent, Ltd., were turned over to Kate. She now officially had control of the company.