‘Good morning, Cornelius,’ said Frank. ‘I’ve just put the phone down on your brother Hugh. That’s the second time he’s called this morning.’
‘What did he want?’ asked Cornelius.
‘To have the full implications explained to him, and also his immediate obligations.’
‘Good,’ said Cornelius. ‘So can I hope to receive a cheque for ￡100,000 in the near future?’
‘I doubt it,’ said Frank. ‘From the tone of his voice I don’t think that’s what he had in mind, but I’ll let you know just as soon as I’ve heard back from him.’
‘I shall look forward to that, Frank.’
‘I do believe you’re enjoying yourself, Cornelius.’
‘You bet I am,’ he replied. ‘I only wish Millie was here to share the fun with me.’
‘You know what she would have said, don’t you?’
‘No, but I have a feeling you’re about to tell me.’
‘You’re a wicked old man.’
‘And, as always, she would have been right,’ Cornelius confessed with a laugh. ‘Goodbye, Frank.’ As he replaced the receiver there was a knock at the door.
‘Come in,’ said Cornelius, puzzled as to who it could possibly be. The door opened and his housekeeper entered, carrying a tray with a cup of tea and a plate of shortbread biscuits. She was, as always, neat and trim, not a hair out of place, and showed no sign of embarrassment. She can’t have received Frank’s letter yet, was Cornelius’s first thought.
‘Pauline,’ he said as she placed the tray on his desk, ‘did you receive a letter from my solicitor this morning?’
‘Yes, I did, sir,’ Pauline replied, ‘and of course I shall sell the car immediately, and repay your ￡500.’ She paused before looking straight at him. ‘But I was just wondering, sir . . .’
‘Would it be possible for me to work it off in lieu? You see, I need a car to pick up my girls from school.’
For the first time since he had embarked on the enterprise, Cornelius felt guilty. But he knew that if he agreed to Pauline’s request, someone would find out, and the whole enterprise would be endangered.
‘I’m so sorry, Pauline, but I’ve been left with no choice.’
‘That’s exactly what the solicitor explained in his letter,’ Pauline said, fiddling with a piece of paper in the pocket of her pinafore. ‘Mind you, I never did go much on lawyers.’
This statement made Cornelius feel even more guilty, because he didn’t know a more trustworthy person than Frank Vintcent.
‘I’d better leave you now, sir, but I’ll pop back this evening just to make sure things don’t get too untidy. Would it be possible, sir . . . ?’
‘Possible . . . ?’ said Cornelius.
‘Could you give me a reference? I mean, you see, it’s not that easy for someone of my age to find a job.’
‘I’ll give you a reference that would get you a position at Buckingham Palace,’ said Cornelius. He immediately sat down at his desk and wrote a glowing homily on the service Pauline Croft had given for over two decades. He read it through, then handed it across to her. ‘Thank you, Pauline,’ he said, ‘for all you have done in the past for Daniel, Millie and, most of all, myself.’
‘My pleasure, sir,’ said Pauline.
Once she had closed the door behind her, Cornelius could only wonder if water wasn’t sometimes thicker than blood.
He sat back down at his desk and began writing some notes to remind him what had taken place that morning. When he had finished he went through to the kitchen to make himself some lunch, and found a salad had been laid out for him.
After lunch, Cornelius took a bus into town – a novel experience. It was some time before he located a bus stop, and then he discovered that the conductor didn’t have change for a twenty-pound note. His first call after he had been dropped off in the town centre was to the local estate agent, who didn’t seem that surprised to see him. Cornelius was delighted to find how quickly the rumour of his financial demise must be spreading.
‘I’ll have someone call round to The Willows in the morning, Mr Barrington,’ said the young man, rising from behind his desk, ‘so we can measure up and take