‘It will all have to be sold to help cover the debts. But, as I said . . .’
‘Hugh has always liked this table.’
‘Louis XIV,’ said Cornelius casually.
‘I wonder what it’s worth,’ Elizabeth mused, trying to make it sound as if it were of little consequence.
‘I have no idea,’ said Cornelius. ‘If I remember correctly, I paid around ￡60,000 for it – but that was over ten years ago.’
‘And the chess set?’ Elizabeth asked, picking up one of the pieces.
‘It’s a worthless copy,’ Cornelius replied. ‘You could pick up a set just like it in any Arab bazaar for a couple of hundred pounds.’
‘Oh, I always thought . . .’ Elizabeth hesitated before replacing the piece on the wrong square. ‘Well, I must be off,’ she said, sounding as if her task had been completed. ‘We must try not to forget that I still have a business to run.’
Cornelius accompanied her as she began striding back down the long corridor in the direction of the front door. She walked straight by the portrait of her nephew Daniel. In the past she had always stopped to remark on how much she missed him.
‘I was wondering . . .’ began Cornelius as they walked out into the hall.
‘Yes?’ said Elizabeth.
‘Well, as I have to be out of here in a couple of weeks, I hoped it might be possible to move in with you. That is, until I find somewhere I can afford.’
‘If only you’d asked a week ago,’ said Elizabeth, without missing a beat. ‘But unfortunately we’ve just agreed to take in my mother, and the only other room is Timothy’s, and he comes home most weekends.’
‘Is that so?’ said Cornelius.
‘And the grandfather clock?’ asked Elizabeth, who still appeared to be on a shopping expedition.
‘Victorian – I purchased it from the Earl of Bute’s estate.’
‘No, I meant how much is it worth?’
‘Whatever someone is willing to pay for it,’ Cornelius replied as they reached the front door.
‘Don’t forget to let me know, Cornelius, if there’s anything I can do to help.’
‘How kind of you, Elizabeth,’ he said, opening the door to find the estate agent hammering a stake into the ground with a sign on it declaring FOR SALE. Cornelius smiled, because it was the only thing that morning that had stopped Elizabeth in her tracks.
Frank Vintcent arrived on the Thursday evening, carrying a bottle of cognac and two pizzas.
‘If I’d realised that losing Pauline was to be part of the deal, I would nev
er have agreed to go along with your plan in the first place,’ Frank said as he nibbled at his microwaved pizza. ‘How do you manage without her?’
‘Rather badly,’ Cornelius admitted, ‘although she still drops in for an hour or two every evening. Otherwise this place would look like a pigsty. Come to think of it, how do you cope?’
‘As a bachelor,’ Frank replied, ‘you learn the art of survival from an early age. Now, let’s stop this small-talk and get on with the game.’
‘Which game?’ enquired Cornelius with a chuckle.
‘Chess,’ replied Frank. ‘I’ve had enough of the other game for one week.’
‘Then we’d better go through to the library.’
Frank was surprised by Cornelius’s opening moves, as he had never known his old friend to be so daring. Neither of them spoke again for over an hour, most of which Frank spent trying to defend his queen.