Archie Colquhoun arrived home in a state of confusion. Telling his wife about what had occurred that day didn’t seem like a good plan, not in her delicate state of confinement. Then if he didn’t tell her and she found out from other sources, where would he stand? It would appear he’d lied, even if only through omission.
He decided to tell her, as gently as he could. She seemed in a positive state of mind and the baby was asleep. It seemed perfect conditions.
‘I had a surprise visitor today,’ he said, after the pleasantries were got through, ‘your uncle Henry.’
Juliet sniffed in scorn.
‘Not congratulating us on the baby I don’t suppose.’
‘Actually yes,’ he replied,’ he gave us some money to buy presents for her and for us all too.’
Juliet turned away with an aloof sigh.
‘I wonder what he’s after in return,’ she said, ‘or is that him thanking us for staying here at Christmas.’
‘He did want me to do something in return,’ said Archie.
‘Oh no, what?’ said Juliet, ‘I hope it’s not something time consuming, doesn’t he know you spend enough time at that office as it is.’
‘I’ve done it already, it didn’t take long… it was an odd business.’
‘How so?’ said Juliet, she looked curiously puzzle.
‘Yes, he wanted me to bear witness to a wedding.’
‘Really, who’s wedding?’
Juliet’s already protuberant eyes nearly popped out from her forehead.
‘His own? My uncle is married? To whom? Dear god Archie, explain!’
‘I really can’t,’ he said and he explained how the morning’s events had unfolded, ‘she was a very pretty young thing, not the type I’d expect Henry to have gone for or moreover not the sort to have gone for him. I always thought if he married he’d choose some plain creature with good housekeeping skills. This one looked a very fashionable young woman, though I couldn’t say the same for her family.’
‘Good god,’ said Juliet, ‘and none of us were invited, why the secrecy?’
‘Like I said, he wanted it kept quiet from your mother and grandmother.’
‘Good god,’ she exclaimed again, ‘and we can’t even warn them, he’ll be almost there. My mother will have a fit, none of this seems right. Who was the lady? Didn’t you recognise her?’
‘No, Katherine Kelso, they called her. Doesn’t mean anything to me, I don’t think we know any families by that name.’
Juliet shook her head.
‘I must write a letter to mother this instant, I know we can’t warn her but I must find out what’s going on, I simply must.’
Tharstaine House was the epitome of a gentleman’s country house, a Palladian mansion built some 40 years before for Henry’s father, its lush grounds and richly furnished interior provided a perfect, tranquil oasis for a family. The Cranston’s however rarely found peace there, Henry certainly didn’t.
The women made it their business to enjoy it when he was in town but his imminent return ensured that Prudence Calder couldn’t settle to anything. His provocative hints about bringing visitors had vexed her to the extreme.
‘If he’d at least had the decency to tell us who to expect, or at least how many visitors he’s bringing. This uncertainty is beyond endurance, how can he expect us to prepare properly?’ she said, compulsively straightening ornaments and adjusting her coiffure.
‘Yes, I’ll be having words with him,’ said Mrs Cranston, ‘he has put us all out. He has no understanding of the running of a household. We need to know how much food to order, what rooms to make up, all these things that he expects done but he doesn’t think to let us know all the facts. His manners are worse than ever and I can’t put up with it much longer.’
‘I think they’re here,’ said Miranda, ‘well, Uncle Henry is anyway, that’s the carriage coming up the driveway.’
‘Oh lord,’ said Prudence, pushing her way to the window to look out, ‘I can’t see properly, does he have people with him?’
‘Impossible to tell from here,’ said Miranda, ‘but I shouldn’t think so, I expect he just said so to tease you.’
‘Oh, I expect you’re right child, that is most likely, indeed.’
The carriage pulled through the arched entrance to the stables, just as Henry had instructed.
Katy was in a state of shocked silence, she hadn’t expected a place of such prodigious dimensions. Fear had crept into her super-confident psyche, she wondered how she would even find her way about and she doubted that there would be a map. They exited the carriage in an open courtyard. She wanted to look around, even to draw breath but Henry seemed unable to stand still even for a second.
‘We’ll go in this way,’ said Henry. Tension seemed to be clinging to him like a swarm of bees, he almost pulled her into the house.
A smartly dressed footman appeared in the hallway. Katy didn’t like the look of him, he seemed to be only half concealing a smirk.
‘Sir,’ he said, his face suddenly straight. He was obviously trying very hard to look at his master but his eyes kept darting towards Katy.
‘You’re expected, sir, I believe your arrival was noted from an upper window.’
‘Thank you, but don’t announce me please, I wish to speak to my family in confidence. I’ll explain to the staff later, please make sure we’re not interrupted.’
His smirk reappeared and he looked Katy up and down. She hardly had a minute to spare him even a derisory glance before Henry pulled her through a doorway and up a stone staircase.
‘Let me go in first,’ he said, ‘you wait in the corridor until I say.’
‘Yes sir,’ she said, he didn’t notice her sarcasm.
At the top of the stairs, he took a deep breath and pulled back the large shiny varnished door. The corridor on the other side was so palatial Katy felt her jaw drop in shock, this was turning into a nightmare. She tried to take in the thick, darkly rich carpet, the panelled walls and the large paintings but her mind had lost any capacity for observing, all she could think about was what was going to happen in just a few seconds.
They reached a door that was slightly open. High pitched voices were conversing rapidly within, Katy’s heart was performing a drum roll loud enough to announce their arrival with a bang.
‘Wait here,’ Henry whispered. She didn’t consider disobeying.
The chatter stopped the second Henry crossed the threshold. Katy listened, her heartbeat now clattering in her ears.
‘Henry, I didn’t hear you come up!’
‘Hello mother,’ he said.
‘Really Henry, we’ve been in uproar all afternoon thinking you were bringing visitors, it simply won’t do. And now you arrive here all alone and we’re left picking up the pieces once again.’
‘You’re quite wrong mother, I’m not here alone. I have indeed brought a visitor with me.’
‘Indeed, you’ll permit me to introduce my wife.’
The door swung back. Katy entered the drawing room.