The second call came only moments after he had put the phone down on his sister.
‘At last,’ said a peremptory voice, as if it were somehow Cornelius’s fault that others might also wish to speak to him.
‘Good morning, Elizabeth,’ said Cornelius, immediately recognising the voice. ‘How nice to hear from you.’
‘It’s about the letter I received this morning.’
‘Yes, I thought it might be,’ said Cornelius.
‘It’s just, well, I wanted to confirm the value of the table – the Louis XIV piece – and, while I’m on the line, the grandfather clock that used to belong to the Earl of Bute.’
‘If you go to the auction house, Elizabeth, they will give you a catalogue, which tells you the high and low estimate for every item in the sale.’
‘I see,’ said Elizabeth. She remained silent for some time. ‘I don’t suppose you know if Margaret will be bidding for either of those pieces?’
‘I have no idea,’ replied Cornelius. ‘But it was Margaret who was blocking the line when you were trying to get through, and she asked me a similar question, so I suggest you give her a call.’ Another long silence. ‘By the way, Elizabeth, you do realise that you can only bid for one item?’
‘Yes, it says as much in the letter,’ replied his sister-in-law tartly.
‘I only ask because I always thought Hugh was interested in the chess set.’
‘Oh no, I don’t think so,’ said Elizabeth. Cornelius wasn’t in any doubt who would be doing the bidding on behalf of that family on Friday morning.
‘Well, good luck,’ said Cornelius. ‘And don’t forget the 15 per cent commission,’ he added as he put the phone down.
Timothy wrote the following day to say he was hoping to attend the auction, as he wanted to pick up a little memento of The Willows and his uncle and aunt.
Pauline, however, told Cornelius as she tidied up the bedroom that she had no intention of going to the auction.
‘Because I’d be sure to make a fool of myself and bid for something I couldn’t afford.’
‘Very wise,’ said Cornelius. ‘I’ve fallen into that trap once or twice myself. But did you have your eye on anything in particular?’
‘Yes, I did, but my savings would never stretch to it.’
‘Oh, you can never be sure with auctions,’ said Cornelius. ‘If no one else joins in the bidding, sometimes you can make a killing.’
‘Well, I’ll think about it, now I’ve got a new job.’
‘I’m so pleased to hear that,’ said Cornelius, who was genuinely disappointed to learn her news.
Neither Cornelius nor Frank was able to concentrate on their weekly chess match that Thursday evening, and after half an hour they abandoned the game and settled on a draw.
‘I must confess that I can’t wait for things to return to normal,’ said Frank as his host poured him a glass of cooking sherry.
‘Oh, I don’t know. I find the situation has its compensations.’
‘Like what for example?’ said Frank, who frowned after his first sip.
‘Well, for a start, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s auction.’
‘But that could still go badly wrong,’ said Frank.