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The Endgame Jeffrey Archer 2022/7/22 14:06:14

Elizabeth began to protest, but Hugh asked, ‘Is there any alternative?’

‘Not that I can think of,’ said Cornelius.

‘Then I don’t see that we’re left with much choice,’ said Hugh, turning to his wife.

‘But what about all those years we’ve put into the company?’ wailed Elizabeth.

‘The shop hasn’t been showing a worthwhile profit for some time, Elizabeth, and you know it. If we don’t accept Cornelius’s offer, we could be paying off the debt for the rest of our lives.’

Elizabeth remained unusually silent.

‘Well, that seems to be settled,’ said Cornelius. ‘Why don’t you just pop round and have a word with my solicitor? He’ll see that everything is in order.’

‘And will you sort out Mr Botts?’ asked Elizabeth.

‘The moment you’ve signed over the shares, I’ll deal with the problem of Mr Botts. I’m confident we can have everything settled by the end of the week.’

‘And I think it might be wise,’ continued Cornelius – they both looked up and stared apprehensively at him – ‘if Hugh were to remain on the board of the company as Chairman, with the appropriate remuneration.’

‘Thank you,’ said Hugh, shaking hands with his brother. ‘That’s generous of you in the circumstances.’ As they returned down the corridor Cornelius stared at the portrait of his son once again.

‘Have you managed to find somewhere to live?’ asked Elizabeth.

‘It looks as if that won’t be a problem after all, thank you, Elizabeth. I’ve had an offer for The Willows far in excess of the price I’d anticipated, and what with the windfall from the auction, I’ll be able to pay off all my creditors, leaving me with a comfortable sum over.’

‘Then why do you need our shares?’ asked Elizabeth, swinging back to face him.

‘For the same reason you wanted my Louis XIV table, my dear,’ said Cornelius as he opened the front door to show them out. ‘Goodbye Hugh,’ he added as Elizabeth got into the car.

Cornelius would have returned to the house, but he spotted Margaret coming up the drive in her new car, so he stood and waited for her. When she brought the little Audi to a halt, Cornelius opened the car door to allow her to step out.

‘Good morning, Margaret,’ he said as he accompanied her up the steps and into the house. ‘How nice to see you back at The Willows. I can’t remember when you were last here.’

‘I’ve made a dreadful mistake,’ his sister admitted, long before they had reached the kitchen.

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Cornelius refilled the kettle and waited for her to tell him something he already knew.

‘I won’t beat about the bush, Cornelius. You see, I had no idea there were two Turners.’

‘Oh, yes,’ said Cornelius matter-of-factly. ‘Joseph Mallord William Turner, arguably the finest painter ever to hail from these shores, and William Turner of Oxford, no relation, and although painting at roughly the same period, certainly not in the same league as the master.’

‘But I didn’t realise that . . .’ Margaret repeated. ‘So I ended up paying far too much for the wrong Turner – not helped by my sister-in-law’s antics,’ she added.

‘Yes, I was fascinated to read in the morning paper that you’ve got yourself into the Guinness Book of Records for having paid a record price for the artist.’

‘A record I could have done without,’ said Margaret. ‘I was rather hoping you might feel able to have a word with Mr Botts, and . . .’

‘And what . . . ?’ asked Cornelius innocently, as he poured his sister a cup of tea.

‘Explain to him that it was all a terrible mistake.’

‘I’m afraid that won’t be possible, my dear. You see, once the hammer has come down, the sale is completed. That’s the law of the land.’

‘Perhaps you could help me out by paying for the picture,’ Margaret suggested. ‘After all, the papers are saying you made nearly a million pounds from the auction alone.’

‘But I have so many other commitments to consider,’ said Cornelius with a sigh. ‘Don’t forget that once The Willows is sold, I will have to find somewhere else to live.’