‘What an irony,’ he said out loud. ‘If Hugh had put the set up for sale at Sotheby’s, he could have held on to the Louis XIV table and had the same amount left over. Still, as Pauline would have said, it’s the thought that counts.’
He was writing a thank-you note to his brother when the phone rang again. It was Frank, reliable as ever, reporting in on his meeting with Hugh.
‘Your brother has signed all the necessary documents, and the shares have been transferred as requested.’
‘That was quick work,’ said Cornelius.
‘The moment you gave me instructions last week, I had all the legal papers drawn up. You’re still the most impatient client I have. Shall I bring the share certificates round on Thursday evening?’
‘No,’ said Cornelius. ‘I’ll drop in this afternoon and pick them up. That is, assuming Pauline is free to drive me into town.’
‘Am I missing something?’ asked Frank, sounding a little bewildered.
‘Don’t worry, Frank. I’ll bring you up to date when I see you on Thursday evening.’
Timothy arrived at The Willows a few minutes after eight the following evening. Pauline immediately put him to work peeling potatoes.
‘How are your mother and father?’ asked Cornelius, probing to discover how much the boy knew.
‘They seem fine, thank you Uncle. By the way, my father’s offered me the job of shop manager. I begin on the first of next month.’
‘Congratulations,’ said Cornelius. ‘I’m delighted. When did he make the offer?’
‘Some time last week,’ replied Timothy.
‘Is it important?’ asked Timothy.
‘I think it might be,’ replied Cornelius, without explanation.
The young man remained silent for some time, before he finally said, ‘Yes, it was Saturday evening, after I’d seen you.’ He paused. ‘I’m not sure Mum’s all that happy about it. I meant to write and let you know, but as I was coming back for the auction, I thought I’d tell you in person. But then I didn’t get a chance to speak to you.’
‘So he offered you the job before the auction took place?’
‘Oh yes,’ said Timothy. ‘Nearly a week before.’ Once again, the young man looked quizzically at his uncle, but still no explanation was forthcoming.
Pauline placed a plate of roast beef in front of each of them as Timothy began to reveal his plans for the company’s future.
‘Mind you, although Dad will remain as Chairman,’ he said, ‘he’s promised not to interfere too much. I was wondering, Uncle Cornelius, now that you own 1 per cent of the company, whether you would be willing to join the board?’
Cornelius looked first surprised, then delighted, then doubtful.
‘I could do with your experience,’ added Timothy, ‘if I’m to go ahead with my expansion plans.’
‘I’m not sure your father would consider it a good idea to have me on the board,’ said Cornelius, with a wry smile.
‘I can’t think why not,’ said Timothy. ‘After all, it was his idea in the first place.’
Cornelius remained silent for some time. He hadn’t expected to go on learning more about the players after the game was officially over.
‘I think the time has come for us to go upstairs and find out if it’s Simon Kerslake or Raymond Gould who becomes Prime Minister,’ he eventually said.
Timothy waited until his uncle had poured himself a large brandy and lit a cigar – his first for a month – before he started to read.
He became so engrossed in the story that he didn’t look up again until he had turned the last page, where he found an envelope sellotaped to the inside of the book’s cover. It was addressed to ‘Mr Timothy Barrington’.