‘But you could always come and stay with me . . .’
‘That’s the second such offer I’ve had this morning,’ said Cornelius, ‘and as I explained to Elizabeth, after being turned down by both of you earlier, I have had to make alternative arrangements.’
‘Then I’m ruined,’ said Margaret dramatically, ‘because I don’t have ￡10,000, not to mention the 15 per cent. Something else I didn’t know about. You see, I’d hoped to make a small profit by putting the painting back up for sale at Christie’s.’
The truth at last, thought Cornelius. Or perhaps half the truth.
‘Cornelius, you’ve always been the clever one in the family,’ Margaret said, with tears welling up in her eyes. ‘Surely you can think of a way out of this dilemma.’
Cornelius paced around the kitchen as if in deep thought, his sister watching his every step. Eventually he came to a halt in front of her. ‘I do believe I may have a solution.’
‘What is it?’ cried Margaret. ‘I’ll agree to anything.’
‘Anything,’ she repeated.
‘Good, then I’ll tell you what I’ll do,’ said Cornelius. ‘I’ll pay for the picture in exchange for your new car.’
Margaret remained speechless for some time. ‘But the car cost me ￡12,000,’ she said finally.
‘Possibly, but you wouldn’t get more than eight thousand for it second-hand.’
‘But then how would I get around?’
‘Try the bus,’ said Cornelius. ‘I can recommend it. Once you’ve mastered the timetable it changes your whole life.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘In fact, you could start right now; there’s one due in about ten minutes.’
‘But . . .’ said Margaret as Cornelius stretched out his open hand. Then, letting out a long sigh, she opened her handbag and passed the car keys over to her brother.
‘Thank you,’ said Cornelius. ‘Now I mustn’t hold you up any longer, or you’ll miss the bus, and there won’t be another one along for thirty minutes.’ He led his sister out of the kitchen and down the corridor. He smiled as he opened the door for her.
‘And don’t forget to pick up the picture from Mr Botts, my dear,’ he said. ‘It will look wonderful over the fireplace in your drawing room, and will bring back so many happy memories of our times together.’
Margaret didn’t comment as she turned to walk off down the long drive.
Cornelius closed the door and was about to go to his study and call Frank to brief him on what had taken place that morning when he thought he heard a noise coming from the kitchen. He changed direction and headed back down the corridor. He walked into the kitchen, went over to the sink, bent down and kissed Pauline on the cheek.
‘Good morning, Pauline,’ he said.
‘What’s that for?’ she asked, her hands immersed in soapy water.
‘For bringing my son back home.’
‘It’s only on loan. If you don’t behave yourself, it goes straight back to my place.’
Cornelius smiled. ‘That reminds me – I’d like to take you up on your original offer.’
‘What are you talking about, Mr Barrington?’
‘You told me that you’d rather work off the debt than have to sell your car.’ He removed her cheque from an inside pocket. ‘I know just how many hours you’ve worked here over the past month,’ he said, tearing the cheque in half, ‘so let’s call it quits.’
‘That’s very kind of you, Mr Barrington, but I only wish you’d told me that before I sold the car.’
‘That’s not a problem, Pauline, because I find myself the proud owner of a new car.’
‘But how?’ asked Pauline as she began to dry her hands.
‘It was an unexpected gift from my sister,’ Cornelius said, without further explanation.