A bell rang in the hallway of number _Golden Square. Mr George Darroch had just settled down to dinner. Glancing up at the sideboard, he read the time on the face of the golden carriage clock, quarter past six.
‘Ah,’ he said, with a nod towards his older brother, ‘there you go, Neil. I think we’re about to be pleasantly surprised.’
Neil grinned, ‘I doubt it, if that’s your trousers, I’ll eat my hat, in fact not just my hat, I’ll eat my cane and my boots as well. That girl probably cut them to shreds, I can’t believe you even went back there with them, what were you thinking?’
‘That girl was an insufferably rude little witch, I wanted to make her squirm.’
Neil raised his eyebrows.
‘Really? You seemed rather taken with her, before she upended half a barrel over you. Maybe it’s not just squirming you’d like to make her do.’
‘Don’t be disgusting, she was foul. That place was foul, I don’t know why we bothered stopping, I assure you I won’t be going back.’
Neil didn’t reply but smiled as he took a spoonful of soup.
‘It wasn’t even her who answered the door,’ said George, ‘so you needn’t grin, it was some swell. I thought he was the manager, he gave me an earful for suggesting it, but if he was such a gentleman why was he staying in a sordid place like that?’
‘The same reason as us probably, maybe it was the only place he could find. It wasn’t exactly a good night for travelling, we were lucky to get back between downpours. We might’ve ended up there ourselves, then you could’ve had your wicked way with the serving wench.’
‘I told you not to be so…’
The door opened and a maidservant entered. She was carrying a small plate with a letter on it. George glared at her. On so many points he found her offensive. The fact that they couldn’t afford a footman, made her very presence more than disagreeable. Her pathetic attempt at bringing the letter on a plate was laughable; she’d have done better just to hand it to them. Worst of all, the letter was clearly not the package he’d been expecting. As the letter was handed to his older brother, George’s heart sank.
George watched him open the letter, his eyes moved rapidly over the paper.
‘It’s a note from Mr Cranston,’ said Neil, ‘he says he’s sorry to have missed us yesterday, but he was detained on business.’
‘Whatever that man says, I don’t believe it,’ said George, irritation gnawing at him.
‘That’s a bit unfair,’ said Neil, folding the note and returning it to the envelope, ‘you’ve never even met him.’
‘That’s the point,’ snapped George, ‘neither have you. If he knew he was going to be in town, why did we bother riding all the way out to that overgrown estate to see him, we could’ve met him here.’
‘Didn’t you like the estate? I thought it was perfectly charming, such beautiful colours on the trees.’
‘That’s not the point, he could’ve dined with us here, what could be simpler? I don’t trust him. I think you should just go ahead without him, he’s not necessary and he quite obviously doesn’t want to see you.’
Neil didn’t reply. He finished his soup then sat back in his chair with a sigh. The maid bustled in to clear away their plates. Neil found himself gritting his teeth as he watched her inefficient manner of loading up the plates, it was simpler to look away but the clinking of spoons drooping on the best china rang in his ears. He focused his attention on the large painting over the mantelpiece. The autumn golds and romantic waterfalls reminded him of the estate they’d ridden to the previous day, that was where he saw himself someday. A place like that, with impressive grounds, a butler, liveried footmen and an army of well-trained staff, not pathetic girls off the street like they had to contend with here. He would only spend the summer there, in the winter he would go to town, perhaps not here, maybe Edinburgh or even London. When he was a man of means all these roads would be open to him.
When the maid had finally made her noisy exit, Neil spoke again.
‘The thing is, if I’m going to be blunt, its Mr Cranston who’s the one with the money. I don’t want to offend him. If I marry Arabella straight away, we’ll have no more than we have just now. If we can sweeten him up though, he might give her a dowry or an allowance, we could do with it.’
Their main course arrived as the gold clock chimed a melancholy half past six. The small but pleasantly furnished room became dimmer as the light outside the large window faded and the lamps took over. George played with his potatoes, pushing them around aimless with his large gilded fork. The pork he was chewing was tough.
‘I’m really not sure,’ he said, after a long silence, filled only by the noise of their jaws working hard to masticate the overcooked meat.
‘About the whole setup. If the money’s all you want, then why bother with them at all. Find someone else, the city is full of rich girls, I expect.’
‘I didn’t say that,’ said Neil, his gentle face reddening, ‘I’d marry her without the money, I just think it would help if we could get it. And you’d be surprised, I don’t think there are as many rich girls as you’d think, most of them are already spoken for from an early age.’
George fell back to prodding his potato.
‘But look at the situation, she’s only his niece, and there’s how many of them? About four or five, why would he bother giving her anything?’
‘Well, he has no children, he keeps them all in that house, he must care about them. I’ve heard he’s worth a fortune,’ said Neil, his voice almost a whisper despite the lack of necessity for it, ‘he could easily give dowries to all his nieces and still have plenty for whatever else he needs it for and...’
Neil paused. George looked up and saw his brother was watching him closely.
‘That being the case, I don’t see why you shouldn’t court one of them too.’
George raised his eyes to his brother, ‘no chance, the only one old enough is only about 16 and she was hideous. I wouldn’t marry her for any amount of money, she’d have to have a complete head change before I even considered it.’
‘Hmm,’ grumbled Neil, ‘changed to resemble that barmaid. No doubt that’d do the trick.’
George ignored him. But he didn’t deny it. He did consider himself prone to infatuations but the thought of her remained in his head all evening. He almost laughed out loud at one point as he remembered how ridiculous she’d looked tripping over. He wished he’d behaved better. Moreover he wished Neil’s assumption was true, if she was a woman of fortune he’d be at her door grovelling that very second. As it was, he sipped a lonely whisky, thinking.