The room had never looked so gloomy. George hated everything about it. He turned to look out the windy and saw a storm was brewing, a shadow of murky clouds loomed into view. Nothing was going to plan. He’d made a mess of everything. Mr Macmillan had all but given him notice, his work had suffered. He could think of nothing else. Nothing apart from Katy. His actions there made him furious with himself. How had he let it happen? If he’d just been honourable, just married her as she’d wanted. She was strong enough for both of them, she could have helped him.
These thoughts had consumed in for weeks. Filled with the knowledge of her strength and resilience he’d retuned to the Anchor, ready to apologise, determined to lay aside his hopeless get rich quick notions and settled down to some hard graft.
But she’d gone.
That despicable old father of hers said so, his ugly, red face covered with liver spots, leering with every word.
‘Gone off with a man of fortune, that’s my girl. Not interested in the likes of you, though your custom’s always welcome here should you fancy a drink.’
The feeling that now bubbled inside him was like an angry volcano about to erupt. Katy and a man of fortune, gone off with him. After all her fine words, after blaming him for being dishonourable, she was equally as bad. Worse.
She’d said his money didn’t matter, but it must have. That was her real game, she’d found someone with enough money to keep her in style. He wondered where she was, the mistress in a fancy boudoir. He hoped she was suffering for her sins. If they ever met again, he would make her suffer even more, the way she’d done to him.
George heard Neil entering the building, the maid was fussing over him. Evidently his umbrella had been rendered useless by the wind. George wondered how people could even care about such trivial matters, where did they find space in their minds to bother with such littleness. Didn’t they know how he was suffering? Didn’t they realise that things of a magnitude so great were going on that broken umbrellas were nothing.
He could hardly stand the sound of Neil’s voice. The cheerful tone made him want to hurl the footstool at him.
‘That really is some wind out there, its bringing a storm I warrant. Smashed my umbrella to twigs… what’s wrong?’
George had risen and was on the verge of leaving the room. He couldn’t bring himself to discuss something so pointless and irritating.
‘Nothing, I simply don’t feel the need to discuss your broken umbrella for the rest of the evening.’
‘Really George, I was simply making conversation. I’m sure it won’t carry us for the whole evening. What is the matter, you look quite terrible? Is there something you do wish to discuss? A more important matter?’
‘Anything is more important than a stupid umbrella,’ he growled, ‘but now you mention it I do. I wish to talk about the plans we had. You were supposed to be arranging a meeting between me and that young sister of Arabella. Have you done it yet?’
Neil shifted uneasily. George wanted more than ever to punch him. He knew Neil was about to have an attack of conscience once again. His own brother didn’t trust him.
‘I don’t want you to lecture me again,’ said George, ‘I know you think my motives are unscrupulous but you’re wrong. I assure you, I simply want to pay my respects to the young lady. I won’t coerce her into anything, you have my word.’
Again Neil seemed to be battling a painful inner struggle.
‘I haven’t been able to secure a meeting yet,’ he said, ‘there’s been a development in the family that has caused them a lot of discomfort.’
‘And what is that?’
‘Mr Cranston is married. Arabella wrote to say that he appeared with his wife some ten days ago. She says she’s a lady of fashion with a very sharp wit, I think the elder Mrs Cranston and Mrs Calder are struggling to cope with the situation. The new wife is apparently a great defender of Mr Cranston and she seems to making her own mark on the place… you can understand I’m sure how difficult it is for me to broach the subject of your visit under such circumstances. I’m not sure even to whom I should apply, perhaps it would be more politic to pay our respects to the bride and work from there.’
George did not like his brother’s insistence on such scruples. His patience was already sorely tested, he didn’t want anymore delays. Marrying this girl would give him the money to do as he pleased, the sooner it happened the better.
An expectant expression was etched across Neil’s face. He seemed to be holding his breath. Waiting for an answer.
‘I suppose we must do that. But let us do it quickly. No more delays. Write now to Arabella, tell her we propose to call and set a date no later than next week.’
Picking up a fountain pen and some paper, George thrust them at Neil. With little possibility of evasion, Neil had no choice but to write.
With no care about anything other than getting the letter to the post box, George left a few moments later. No servant could be entrusted to do it quick enough, the impending storm meant nothing – so what if he got wet? It had to be done quickly, no more time for delays and setbacks.
As he went to push the letter into the box he recalled the information Neil had given him. Mr Cranston married. That king of misers and swindlers had purchased himself a wife of fashion. He recalled how Katy had been the reason he had first set eyes on that man of ill name, though he hadn’t realised who he was until later. That ill-fated day when he’d taken back those stained breaches to the Inn. Henry Cranston was the swell who’d opened the door, George had wondered why such a man would frequent a place as low as that, but Katy had answered the question. Most of the people who stayed there were swindlers and crooks, so she said. It all made sense now. Henry was a swindler, how else had he made such a great fortune? His dealings with Mr Macmillan proved that. Macmillan was new to practice; he’d have no prior knowledge of Henry and would envision him a man of status rather than a criminal. Henry frequented haunts of disrepute near the harbour so he could strike underhand deals with merchants and sailors, George had no difficulty in imagining how many others he’d fiddled and blackmailed to amass his pile.
Armed with this information, George felt filled with an unseen power. He now had the means to force Henry purchase him a life of elegance and leisure. If he tried to refuse, George would expose him to the world for what he really was. The conman was about to have the table upturned in his face.