Whatever he was expecting, it wasn’t this. Entering with her usual flair Katy beamed round the room. Her knees seemed to give way and she almost sank to the floor. Henry took her arm and steadied her, what had happened? her face looked drained of its usual colour.
‘George?’ said Katy, her voice was hoarse.
‘Who are you sir?’ demanded Henry, looking from one to the other and releasing Katy from his grip.
Prudence sat up, her eyes full of interest.
‘This is my brother, sir,’ said Neil, ‘George Darroch.’
‘I’ve seen you before,’ said Henry.
‘Indeed, I work for Mr Macmillan, the solicitor.’ His voice sounded calm and collected.
‘Of course,’ said Henry.
He watched George’s eyes moving to Katy, she tried to smile at him as though she was meeting a perfectly bona fide acquaintance but he couldn’t help feeling highly suspicious. There was a great change in her countenance. She no longer looked invincible, she looked disconcerted and out of place. She suddenly reminded him of the hopeless young woman he’d pulled back from the brink months before.
‘This is my wife, Katy,’ said Henry, introducing the strangers one by one.
‘You’re his wife,’ said George, he was staring intently at her, his expression divided between horror and intrigue.
‘Yes,’ said Katy. She seemed to regain some of her confidence, ‘that’s right.’
‘You are previously acquainted?’ said Prudence, her interest was tangible.
George said ‘yes’ at the same instant as Katy said ‘no’.
‘Ah, I see,’ said Prudence.
Henry looked at Katy but she didn’t’ return his look, she was staring at George. The looks they were exchanging filled him with dread.
‘So are you or aren’t you acquainted,’ asked Prudence.
‘Our paths have crossed,’ said Katy, ‘but I do not count Mr Darroch among my acquaintance, no.’
‘Indeed,’ said George, ‘how very interesting.’
‘Let us sit,’ said Henry, ‘child, ring the bell for tea.’
Susan rang the bell looking like a frightened rabbit.
Henry did not sit next to Katy. He retired to the window and stood looking out, when he turned back he was unsettled to see George had taken the seat next to Katy. She looked annoyed and turned her head away from him. Henry saw Prudence was also observing, or attempting to. Neil Darroch had sat down at her side and was trying to engage her in conversation.
Unseen, Henry moved to a chair near to Katy and George. As the tea began to flow with the conversation he heard George talking in an undertone, straining his ears he listened, trying to make out his words from the general banter.
‘You did it,’ he said, ‘how?’
‘Don’t talk to me,’ hissed Katy, ‘what are you doing here?’
‘Can’t you guess? I am impressed, you did all this, it’s better than I could ever have managed on my own. If I can marry Miranda, it’ll be set. We’ll be free, you did it, you actually did it.’
Henry did not wait to hear more. He suddenly realised what had happened. The crushing blow of his own idiocy hit him like an avalanche of loose boulders. How could he ever have been so stupid? The door closed behind him, he left the room without affecting the notice of anyone in the drawing room.
‘George,’ said Katy, ‘what are you talking about? Did what?’
‘You conned him, you married him, Henry Cranston, the man I was trying to get the money from, Miranda is the girl I told you about.’
‘You seem to be labouring under some kind of delusion, I don’t know what you mean.’
‘I’m happy to see you’re getting reacquainted,’ said Prudence, moving to a chair beside them and parking herself in it, ‘I’d dearly love to know how you know each other. We haven’t been able to discover anything about Henry’s dear wife, though Neil has just informed me you bear a striking resemblance to someone he once met at an inn near the harbour.’
‘What rot,’ said George, ‘I know what he means but he’s quite wrong, I met Mrs Cranston in quite another place.’
‘Indeed and where was that.’
‘I’ve told you before,’ said Katy, ‘this kind of question is intolerable. George is mistaken, we’ve never met before, he must’ve mistaken me for someone else.’
‘But I thought you already said you’d met?’ said Prudence, ‘or are you also mistaken.’
Katy looked around.
‘Do you even care,’ said George.
Neil gave him a reproachful glare.
‘Miranda,’ said Katy, ‘whatever this man says to you, I advise you to keep well clear of him. He’s a dishonourable wretch who’ll bring you nothing but grief.’
She hurried from the room. She must find Henry.
His study door was tight shut, she snapped it open and burst in. He was standing staring out the window. He didn’t turn round when she entered.
‘Henry,’ she said, ‘we have to do something, you have to…’
He turned slowly to face her. She took a step back, his face was white, he resembled the old Henry, the scrubbed face and cold glare had returned, his eyes showed no delight at her appearance. She felt afraid, the first time she’d been really frightened since arriving in this house.
‘There’s no need to continue,’ he said, ‘you’ve achieved what you set out to do, what happens now is irrelevant, so you can stop pretending you care.’
‘What do you mean?’ she said quietly.
‘I see it all so clearly now, I don’t know how I could have been so foolish.’
‘Henry, what do you see?’
‘How you’ve played me for a fool. You and that Darroch character. You’ve been in it together from the start. You told me once you were a terrible liar, just one of your many lies that I believed, you’re an accomplished actress, you’d have done well on the stage.’
‘I haven’t, I never knew…’
‘Please, don’t trouble yourself to invent anymore tales. I saw him at the inn months ago, I thought he was acting like a bruised lover, I should’ve known, even then. An elaborate deception indeed, even your faint attempt at leaping to a watery grave, it was all part of a plan, wasn’t it. He knew I was walking that way, I met him in the solicitors and somehow he prompted you to go there and wait for me. You did well, I was duped, so completely, you really did seduce me, you played on my conscience, but worse so much worse you led me to believe that you… and I…’
He shook his head as if trying to get rid of a troublesome fly.
‘Henry, no, none of this is right, I did meet George at Greyhope, it was him that made me want to jump but not in the way…’
‘No more, I beg you no more. You have what you want, you have all the money you’ve ever wanted and you played your well, you were authentic, too authentic in fact. Now you must do as you see fit.’
Katy slumped into a chair, her head fell into her hands. This was all wrong, whatever she’d planned she hadn’t meant it to be like this.
‘Please leave,’ said Henry, ‘you’ve done your worst, please don’t importune me any further.’
Hardly able to contain the tears swelling through her heart and into her throat, she walked slowly from the room. The most complete sense of emptiness and rejection filled her soul, more than she’d felt at any point in her life before. The loss of George seemed pathetically tiny compared to this. The end really had arrived, she was trapped in a web, partly of her own making and wholly inescapable.
‘Where are you going?’
Prudence appeared in the corridor.
‘To my room,’ said Katy.
‘Oh no,’ said Prudence, ‘you cannot escape that easily, come with me.’
‘Come,’ snapped Prudence as though she were an irritating little dog.
She dragged her back to the study.
‘No,’ said Katy, ‘not in there.’
Prudence opened the door and pushed her back inside.
‘I told you…’ began Henry but Prudence stepped over the threshold and slammed the door behind them.
Katy returned to the chair, hardly able to think.
‘Well, well, well Henry. What an astounding conclusion this is.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘I had hoped this weekend would be a disaster for this young lady but only in a very minor way. It’s turning out more astonishing than I could have ever dreamed. Young George Darroch has been enlightening us on a few very interesting points, apparently she is the daughter of an extremely lowly innkeeper who runs a house of ill repute near the harbour.’
‘Well, George Darroch is in a position to know,’ said Henry.
‘As it would seem are you, I always suspected you of something of the like and now I see I was right all along. How disappointing Henry. I thought you so much cleverer, but marrying this bar maid, for what? Lust? How disappointing, I thought you above that sort of thing. Or did you imagine something else? Perhaps you thought she’d succeed in fooling us, I congratulate you young lady, you almost accomplished your design, my mother was nearly taken in, as were my daughters, but you, Henry. I thought you’d have more sense, or has she duped you too, was this a plot against you too? A plot to get your money.’
‘No indeed, she’s part of a more sinister plot, one that’s cut me more than you’d every understand, more than either of you can understand in fact.’
‘Henry…’ said Katy but Prudence cut through her.
‘Indeed? Your own folly perhaps? Is that what is to ruin us?’
‘My own folly won’t ruin you, though it’s already ruined me more than you can know.’
‘Please,’ said Katy, she was desolate with grief, ‘please stop, no more, none of this is right, you’ve got it all wrong.’
‘No,’ said Prudence, ‘I believe Mr George Darroch, his brother confirms that he also saw you at the inn in question, when they were stranded in bad weather. I see no reason to doubt his word, whereas you… well, you can understand why I must doubt you. You who’ve been pretending to be a lady since the minute you arrived here, all your big talk about fashionable society, I knew…’
There was a knock on the door and it opened.