‘But you don’t drive, Mr Barrington.’
‘I know. So I’ll tell you what I’ll do,’ said Cornelius. ‘I’ll swap it for the picture of Daniel.’
‘But that’s not a fair exchange, Mr Barrington. I only paid ￡50 for the picture, and the car must be worth far more.’
‘Then you’ll also have to agree to d
rive me into town from time to time.’
‘Does that mean I’ve got my old job back?’
‘Yes – if you’re willing to give up your new one.’
‘I don’t have a new one,’ said Pauline with a sigh. ‘They found someone a lot younger than me the day before I was due to begin.’
Cornelius threw his arms around her.
‘And we’ll have less of that for a start, Mr Barrington.’
Cornelius took a pace back. ‘Of course you can have your old job back, and with a rise in salary.’
‘Whatever you consider is appropriate, Mr Barrington. After all, the labourer is worthy of his hire.’
Cornelius somehow stopped himself from laughing.
‘Does this mean all the furniture will be coming back to The Willows?’
‘No, Pauline. This house has been far too large for me since Millie’s death. I should have realised that some time ago. I’m going to move out and look for something smaller.’
‘I could have told you to do that years ago,’ Pauline said. She hesitated. ‘But will that nice Mr Vintcent still be coming to supper on Thursday evenings?’
‘Until one of us dies, that’s for sure,’ said Cornelius with a chuckle.
‘Well, I can’t stand around all day chattering, Mr Barrington. After all, a woman’s work is never done.’
‘Quite so,’ said Cornelius, and quickly left the kitchen. He walked back through the hall, picked up the package, and took it through to his study.
He had removed only the outer layer of wrapping paper when the phone rang. He put the package to one side and picked up the receiver to hear Timothy’s voice.
‘It was good of you to come to the auction, Timothy. I appreciated that.’
‘I’m only sorry that my funds didn’t stretch to buying you the chess set, Uncle Cornelius.’
‘If only your mother and aunt had shown the same restraint . . .’
‘I’m not sure I understand, Uncle.’
‘It’s not important,’ said Cornelius. ‘So, what can I do for you, young man?’
‘You’ve obviously forgotten that I said I’d come over and read the rest of that story to you – unless of course you’ve already finished it.’
‘No, I’d quite forgotten about it, what with the drama of the last few days. Why don’t you come round tomorrow evening, then we can have supper as well. And before you groan, the good news is that Pauline is back.’
‘That’s excellent news, Uncle Cornelius. I’ll see you around eight tomorrow.’
‘I look forward to it,’ said Cornelius. He replaced the receiver and returned to the half-opened package. Even before he had removed the final layer of paper, he knew exactly what was inside. His heart began beating faster. He finally raised the lid of the heavy wooden box and stared down at the thirty-two exquisite ivory pieces. There was a note inside: ‘A small appreciation for all your kindness over the years. Hugh.’
Then he recalled the face of the woman who had slipped past him at the auction house. Of course, it had been his brother’s secretary. The second time he had misjudged someone.