'The residents of Hampstead have been most generous. Many have paid in excess of the ticket price. There are some expenses that must be met out of this, of course. The hire of the harpsichord, for example. And there are the new Performing Right Society fees to be paid. But we are fortunate in that our principal artists have agreed to appear pro bono.'
'But this is excellent news, Cavendish. It calls for a celebration, do you not think? Would you care for a brandy and soda?'
Cavendish seemed to recoil from the suggestion. A mistrustful, worried look entered his eyes. He muttered a weak demurral.
Sir Aidan rose from his desk with a spring in his step. He crossed to a glass-fronted cabinet displaying a collection of crystal decanters, containing various levels of subtly different dark-hued liqueurs. This was the thing to do with Cavendish, loosen him up a little, flatter him with attention, make him feel important. Fix him a drink, in other words.
Sir Aidan held out a satisfyingly weighty cut-glass tumbler, filled with effervescent amber liquid. He breathed in its intoxicating whiff as he surrendered it. 'I may incur some expenses in relation to the concert myself.' He was careful not to look at the treasurer as he said this.
Cavendish's dubious expression sharpened into out-and-out suspicion. 'What expenses?'
'Small, small expenses. I wouldn't want to trouble you with the details. You already have so much on your plate. Perhaps the easiest thing would be for you to pre-sign one or two cheques for me...' Seeing the look of horror on the treasurer's face, Sir Aidan quickly changed the subject. 'How is Ursula?'
He went back to the cabinet for his own drink, raising his glass with what he hoped was a broad, easy smile. In fact, he found that it took considerable effort to pull it off. And he still could not look his treasurer in the eye.
That dark tone was still in the treasurer's voice. 'Why do you ask?' There was something eating Cavendish, that much was clear. Sir Aidan had no wish to get to the bottom of it. Something to do with his wife, no doubt. They must have had another argument. He made a nonchalant gesture with one hand. 'Good old Ursula. She really is a brick.' What he hoped to achieve by these bland observations, he really had no idea.
He felt the man's gaze boring into him, to the point that he could not ignore it any longer. He glanced up, startled by the glare of animosity that was directed at him.
Sir Aidan frowned and gave a brief, bewildered shake of the head, before dipping his eyes to focus on his suddenly very interesting drink.
The coals in the grate cracked and settled, heating the room to a toasty warmth. The fire gave off more than warmth, however; it gave off contentment, which the sleeping tabby curled up on the hearthrug inhaled with every gentle snore.
Two children sat at an undersized nursery table, absorbed in the activity of turning sheets of paper into artefacts of their imaginations. A young woman squatted on a chair that was much too small for her, encouraging them with her benign and smiling presence.
'Here, Daphne, let me help you with that.' Hattie Greene reached across the table towards the sheet of pink paper that four-year-old Daphne was at that moment grappling with.
'I can do it,' Daphne insisted.
But it was a difficult fold, along the length of the foolscap-sized sheet, which appeared gigantic and unruly in Daphne's dear little hands.