‘That’s extremely kind of you, my dear,’ said Cornelius, ‘but I’ve got used to taking the bus, and in any case I wouldn’t want to impose on you. Look forward to seeing you at ten.’ He put the phone down.
Cornelius was still in the bath when the phone rang a second time. He wallowed in the warm water until the ringing had ceased. He knew it was Margaret, and he was sure she would call back within minutes.
He hadn’t finished drying himself before the phone rang again. He walked slowly to the bedroom, picked up the receiver by his bed and said, ‘Good morning Margaret.’
‘Good morning, Cornelius,’ she said, sounding surprised. Recovering quickly, she added, ‘I need to see you urgently.’
‘Oh? What’s the problem?’ asked Cornelius, well aware exactly what the problem was.
‘I can’t possibly discuss such a delicate matter over the phone, but I could be with you by ten.’
‘I’m afraid I’ve already agreed to see Elizabeth at ten. It seems that she also has an urgent matter she needs to discuss with me. Why don’t you come round at eleven?’
‘Perhaps it would be better if I came over immediately,’ said Margaret, sounding flustered.
‘No, I’m afraid eleven is the earliest I can fit you in, my dear. So it’s eleven or afternoon tea. Which would suit you best?’
‘Eleven,’ said Margaret without hesitation.
‘I thought it might,’ said Cornelius. ‘I’ll look forward to seeing you then,’ he added before replacing the receiver.
When Cornelius had finished dressing, he went down to the kitchen for breakfast. A bowl of cornflakes, a copy of the local paper and an unstamped envelope were awaiting him, although there was no sign of Pauline.
He poured himself a cup of tea, tore open the envelope and extracted a cheque made out to him for ￡500. He sighed. Pauline must have sold her car.
He began to turn the pages of the Saturday supplement, stopping when he reached ‘Houses for Sale’. When the phone rang for the third time that morning, he had no idea who it might be.
‘Good morning, Mr Barrington,’ said a cheerful voice. ‘It’s Bruce from the estate agents. I thought I’d give you a call to let you know we’ve had an offer for The Willows that is in excess of the asking price.’
‘Well done,’ said Cornelius.
‘Thank you, sir,’ said the agent, with more respect in his voice than Cornelius had heard from anyone for weeks, ‘but I think we should hold on for a little longer. I’m confident I can squeeze some more out of them. If I do, my advice would be to accept the offer and ask for a 10 per cent deposit.’
‘That sounds like good advice to me,’ said Cornelius. ‘And once they’ve signed the contract, I’ll need you to find me a new house.’
‘What sort of thing are you looking for, Mr Barrington?’
‘I want something about half the size of The Willows, with perhaps a couple of acres, and I’d like to remain in the immediate area.’
‘That shouldn’t be too hard, sir. We have one or two excellent houses on our books at the moment, so I’m sure we’ll be able to accommodate you.’
‘Thank you,’ said Cornelius, delighted to have spoken to someone who had begun the day well.
He was chuckling over an item on the front page of the local paper when the doorbell rang. He checked his watch. It was still a few minutes to ten, so it couldn’t be Elizabeth. When he opened the front door he was greeted by a man in a green uniform, holding a clipboard in one hand and a parcel in the other.
‘Sign here,’ was all the courier said, handing over a biro.
Cornelius scrawled his signature across the bottom of the form. He would have asked who had sent the parcel if he had not been distracted by a car coming up the drive.
‘Thank you,’ he said. He left the package in the hall and walked down the steps to welcome Elizabeth.
When the car drew up outside the front door, Cornelius was surprised to find Hugh seated in the passenger seat.
‘It was kind of you to see us at such short notice,’ said Elizabeth, who looked as if she had spent another sleepless night.
‘Good morning, Hugh,’ said Cornelius, who suspected his brother had been kept awake all night. ‘Please come through to the kitchen – I’m afraid it’s the only room in the house that’s warm.’
As he led them down the long corridor, Elizabeth stopped in front of the portrait of Daniel. ‘I’m so glad to see it back in its rightful place,’ she said. Hugh nodded his agreement.