Rockingdown Revisited

by Sally Neary

PART 2: Beginnings and EndingsNovember 1986

Bill Cunningham opened the front door at Craggy Tops, walked into the hall and shut it firmly behind him. "Gosh, what a wild night!" he called. "I think there's going to be a storm later tonight, Allie."

"Heavy rain is forecast," said Allie, his wife, as she came out into the hall from the kitchen. "Did you have a good evening?"

"Yes – it went well, but the speeches went on a bit long, I thought," said Bill. "I got away as soon as I could."

"I've made some coffee," said Allie. They both walked into the sitting-room, and she poured Bill a black coffee from the percolator on the coffee-table.

"I have some news," said Allie, smiling. "Dinah called earlier – Leo is about to announce his engagement to Tess!"

"What?" asked Bill, his mind whirling.

"Well, you know when Alastair and his sons were staying with Philip and Caro in Newfoundland last year, Tess was there during her gap year. It seems she and Leo got to know each other quite well, and they stayed in touch after the family left. Leo was still at medical school in Birmingham, of course, but they apparently met up at New Year and also in the Easter holidays, when he was back home in London.

"I didn't realise they were seriously going out together!" said Bill.

"I think everything took off at Dinah and Alastair's wedding," continued Allie. "Bill, you must have noticed that Leo and Tess were together practically the whole time. They danced together all evening! Leo had graduated by then, of course, and he obviously decided it was time to give some attention to his romantic life."

Bill walked over to the sideboard to pour himself a drink, so that Allie couldn't see his reaction. Dinah's step-son to marry Barney and Diana's daughter? How ironic was that? Thought Bill. Dinah and Alastair's link to Barney and Diana would now be stronger than ever before, and that thought made him uncomfortable.

Dinah and Alastair had now been married for just over three months, and he knew that Dinah was very happy – Alastair was a great guy, and he was convinced it was a good match, but he would have preferred their links to Barney's family were less rather than more. He was conscious that for years Dinah had fought her feelings for Barney, and the less contact they had the better, in his opinion.

"You don't seem very pleased," said Allie in surprise. "After all, it's the first engagement of the next generation of the family, and I think it's rather lovely that our links with the Lynton-Martins are continuing."

"I just get a little concerned when young people make these commitments before they know enough about life. Leo and Tess haven't known each other that long, after all," Bill said quietly.

"Well, they are both 24 – it seems they are planning to get officially engaged on Tess' birthday later this month. Leo is quite a catch, isn't he?" said Allie. "He is very much like Alastair, very charismatic and agreeable, and he's planning to specialise in paediatrics – he already has his first appointment at Southampton Children's Hospital. And of course, Tess is so beautiful and an absolute darling."

"Apart from that," she continued, "you have to remember that Snubby and Lucy-Ann met at 21 and married the following year, and that has certainly been a happy and successful marriage."

"Yes, well I hope it works out for them, obviously," said Bill. "I agree, they are both lovely young people. Have they fixed a wedding date?"

"Not yet, but I believe they are trying to arrange something for the early spring next year," said Allie. "And so we have another wedding to think about!" she added.

"And a new outfit, I expect," said Bill, smiling.

"Of course!" laughed Allie. "Lucy-Ann called earlier as well. She and Dinah have decided that we should all spend Christmas this year in London, particularly as Philip and Caro will be home. Lucy suggests that Jack, Sue and the boys stay with them, and we all stay with Dinah and Alastair. Snubby has booked a private room at their local pub on Boxing Day for lunch for us all to meet up – with the Lynton-Martins as well."

"That's a good idea," said Bill. "There are too many of us now to put up here. It's too much for you Allie for a four day stretch."

"I never mind, but I agree, Christmas in London will be lovely, and by then, Dinah and Alastair will have moved to their new house, and we can stay with them there."

"Did Lucy-Ann mention any more about Rockingdown Hall?" asked Bill.

"Only that now the sale has gone through, Snubby's surveyors and Alastair's team of architects are working together on the plans. I believe work will start in the New Year, once they've got planning permission."

"If I didn't know Snubby as I do, I would think he'd taken leave of his senses," said Bill.

"Do you think he's making a mistake?" asked Allie anxiously.

"No," said Bill. "I think I now know Snubby enough to know that he knows exactly what he is doing. In fact, I trust his judgement implicitly."

* * *

"Here we are, I thought your homecoming deserved something to mark the occasion," said Snubby, carrying in an opened bottle of chilled champagne. He began to pour it into glasses on the coffee table.

"Oh, how lovely," said Diana, smiling happily. "I have to say, as much as we have loved our two months away, it's good to be back."

"And so much to celebrate," said Lucy-Ann. "After all, Tess will be the first of our offspring to tie the knot."

"Yes – I have to say, it took us a little by surprise," said Barney, "but she and Leo seem to be on cloud nine, and so we can only be pleased for them. It seems he popped the question at the beginning of October, but they waited until we came back from Spain to discuss it."

"You both look so well," said Lucy-Ann, thinking not for the first time what a striking couple Barney and Diana were. They both exude glamour, she thought, and even more so when they're together. Barney looked browner than she had ever seen him. His thick blond hair, now streaked with grey, had been bleached by the sun and his wide-set brilliantly blue eyes shone happily. Diana was also very tanned, and her glossy dark hair, having grown, was swept up loosely. She wore an ivory v-necked cashmere sweater and smart black jeans.

"I am so laid-back after two months off, I am almost horizontal," laughed Barney. "I recommend it Snubbs – take an extended break. It's truly worth it."

"In my dreams," said Snubby. "I seem to get busier – even taking a fortnight off is a challenge nowadays."

"And of course we have something else to celebrate, do we not?" Barney smiled across at Snubby. "We want to know all about this latest venture of yours – buying Rockingdown Hall! To say we were flabbergasted when you called is an understatement!"

"Oh, well, plenty of time to tell you about that," said Snubby, grinning at them both, "but we want to hear all about Leo and Tess's plans and the family in Spain before we get onto our news."

"We certainly do," agreed Lucy-Ann. "The roast won't be ready for about another three quarters of an hour yet, and so we have plenty of time to chat."

"Well, I think Leo and Tess have really been going strong since Dinah and Alastair's wedding, although they met in Newfoundland of course," began Diana. "Tess being as she is, is incapable of hiding her feelings, and we have known for months that she was very smitten. We are very happy about Leo, because he is really a lovely guy."

"Yep," agreed Barney. "I think Tess understands what being a doctor's wife means, of course, because of Roger – long hours, unpredictability and often an exhausted husband at the end of the day, but she's not a selfish girl, as you know, and she is prepared to adapt."

"My main concern," said Diana, "is that Tess is very outgoing, and she will have a lot of time alone in Southampton while Leo is working, because his hours are so long. I know she'll make new friends, but at first she may find it a little lonely."

"Have they set a wedding date yet?" asked Lucy-Ann.

"Yes – 28th February next year," smiled Diana. "They seem to have thought it all through. They don't want a long engagement, because of the strain of commuting between London and Southampton. Tess is planning to leave her current teaching post in London at half-term in February, and she'll then have a week to prepare before the wedding. She hopes to get another post in Southampton to start after Easter."

"Oh, how exciting and only just under four months away!" said Lucy-Ann.

"Ricklesham Church is booked for two o'clock, and we've booked the reception at Bowland House at Rilloby," continued Diana. "Luckily, because it's in February, they still had availability."

"I love winter weddings," smiled Lucy-Ann. "They can be so romantic. I can see a major shopping trip coming up for us Di!"

"And how are your new found relatives in Spain?" asked Snubby.

"Great," said Barney. "Neta is terrific. We already feel we have known her years, and her family are lovely people as well. Her elder son, Mijael, lives with his wife and three sons in Madrid – he is a businessman, and her younger son, Paulo lives with his family just outside Seville – he's a surveyor. Her daughter, Natalia, and her husband live in Seville. They have two daughters, Carlotta and Maria – and thereby hangs a further tale." He smiled at Diana.

"And what is that?" asked Lucy-Ann, intrigued.

"Well, we do believe that Hugo has fallen rather hard for Carlotta," said Diana softly.

"But she's his cousin!" said Snubby in surprise.

"Third time removed," said Barney. "Their grandmothers were cousins – Neta and my mother, and they are the third generation. There is actually no legal reason, neither in the UK nor in Spain, why they can't get together."

"Gosh – is Hugo really serious about her?" Lucy-Ann looked at Diana.

"Hugo is serious about everything he does," said Diana. "Whether it's his music, his family or his friends – he is either wholehearted or he doesn't do it. They spent a lot of time together, going for a lot of long walks and talking. Carlotta is 22, four years younger than Hugo, and is training to be an opera singer," she added, "and so they obviously have their love of music in common. She's a lovely girl and has the most beautiful voice – I actually think Hugo fell in love with her when he heard her sing."

"After his two week holiday with us, he came back for a long weekend in early October, and spent it mainly with her in Seville, although he stayed with us" added Barney. "I reminded him he was in southern Spain, and suggested he took it steady, particularly given the family connection," he said smiling. "Carlotta plans to come to England for New Year, and of course we will be inviting them all to the wedding in February."

"In fact, Tess has written to Carlotta to ask her to sing at their wedding ceremony," smiled Diana. "I think Hugo will accompany her on the cello."

"My goodness – I can hardly believe all this," Lucy-Ann laughed. "Before we continue any further, can I just serve lunch, and we can carry on talking then."

They moved to the dining-room, Lucy-Ann brought in a dish of roasted vegetables and a dish of baked leeks, and Snubby began to carve the leg of lamb. "Now you've had our news, we want to hear the story of Rockingdown," said Barney. "We know you well enough to know you must know what you're doing."

"That's funny – Bill said the same thing," replied Snubby, serving plates to Barney and Diana. "Well, I've been thinking of branching out in the country house hotel market for some time. The business is doing well, and I think it's the right time to invest further, because the property market is likely to get stronger. And then I saw the advertisement for Rockingdown Hall coming up for sale – having been used as a small prep school for some years but empty for the last seven years – and off we all trooped to have a look. Roger came along of course, and Dinah and Alastair came with us as well, because I wanted Alastair to give me his professional advice on it. He thought it was a goer, and so did I."

"We then had a look at Rockingdown Cottage and got chatting to the owner who was gardening," continued Snubby. "Believe it or not, she and her husband have owned the cottage since the 30s. Her husband was in the forces and they were stationed in India at the time we stayed there and they regularly let it during that time."

"She happened to mention that her daughter wanted her to sell the cottage while Rockingdown Hall was for sale, and so we have come to an arrangement on that as well. We are due to exchange contracts in just over a week, and we've agreed a delayed completion date of September next year, to give her time to find something else. We'll be focusing on the main property for the whole of next year and won't need to do any work on the cottage until the Autumn at least. It's in good condition anyway."

"From what you said, Snubby, you didn't actually go to auction on Rockingdown Hall, did you?" asked Diana.

"No – I didn't want to risk being run up by other developers," said Snubby, "and so I did what I often do – offered the agent a cash deal and a seven day contract prior to auction. I had to pay quite a bit more than the guide price to get them to agree, but it ensured the deal."

"What about planning permission?" asked Barney. "Is that likely to be a problem?"

"Hopefully not – it's a slight risk but not a realistic one. The property has lapsed planning permission as a prep school, but other commercial uses should be no problem. It's Grade II listed, and so the planners' key concerns are about preserving the character and integrity of the property – and that I intend to do."

"When do you plan to open?" asked Diana.

"I'm not sure yet – it's likely to take at least a year to renovate and prepare. The coach-house will need to be converted as extra bedrooms, and the grounds will need some work as well. Don Lapsley will be managing all the work for me – he has worked for me on and off for twenty years. He has two arms to his business – a team of surveyors and also a team of builders. I will also then have to look at getting the right professional management involved."

"I can't wait to see it again," said Diana. "Could we arrange to come down to see it with you in the next few weeks?"

"Of course," replied Snubby. "Hopefully next Sunday, when Barney is free. Are you already working again, Barney?"

"Yes – I am in rehearsal," said Barney. "I thought I would wait until today to tell you. I will be playing Lear from mid-December. I have wanted to play Lear since I graduated from drama-school, and now I will be. It's a huge part, but I can't wait. We'll be opening on 15th December."

"Oh, Barney, I'm so pleased," said Lucy-Ann. "We must be at your first night – you will get us tickets won't you?"

"Since when have you missed one of my first nights?" laughed Barney. "Of course. I hope the whole family can be there."

"And of course Philip and Caro will be back for Christmas and taking up a new appointment in Scotland from the New Year!" said Diana. "That is also terrific news."

"It seems to me there are a whole lot of new beginnings for us all," said Lucy-Ann. "Leo and Tess's engagement, a new romance for Hugo, a new assignment for Phil and Caro, Barney to play Lear from December, and Rockingdown Hall for us. Oh, and we musn't forget that Dinah and Alastair have also sold and settled on a Victorian house in Barnet, not too far from us. They will be moving at the end of November."

"And let's raise a glass to all of that," said Snubby. "To new beginnings!"

* * *

The telephone rang, and Dinah opened her eyes. For a moment, she couldn't remember where she was. Of course, it's Friday and I'm in Paris, she thought. She glanced at the clock – it was just six fort-five.

"Good morning, Dinah James," she answered.

"Have I woken you?"

"Yes, darling, but I need to get up at seven, anyway, and so that's alright. It's early in England," she murmured.

"I thought I would give you a quick call, as I have an early breakfast meeting in London this morning," said Alastair.

"I'm so glad it's Friday," she said, sleepily. "I've had a busy few days here. I have two meetings this morning, and then I'll be having lunch with one of my best French clients, Madame Gautier, at the Hotel de Crillon, if you please, at mid-day – at her expense, I'm glad to say."

"Well, don't forget you have a plane to catch at just before five o'clock," came Alastair's warm voice. "You've been away since Tuesday morning, and I want my wife all to myself this weekend."

"Sounds like a good plan," she smiled happily, nestling back against the pillows. "Don't worry, I won't miss the flight. I shall head back to the office for an hour after lunch, and then I will be on my way to the airport."

"Good, I've booked a table at eight thirty for this evening at Scallani's," said Alastair. "I didn't think either of us would want to cook."

"Lovely," said Dinah. "I would love some fresh air this weekend though, Al. I have been cooped up in offices and galleries all week."

"We will – I want to go over to the new house on Saturday morning to do some more measuring, but we could have a pub lunch, and then head out the countryside for a good walk in the afternoon, if you like."

"Perfect. I will let you get off, as I must get up now. I should be home by six thirty, I hope."

"Ok – enjoy lunch, and see you later. Love you." Alastair rang off.

* * *

Dinah walked into the reception area of the Hotel de Crillon in Paris, leading off la Place de la Concorde, at just before mid-day, marvelling as she always did at the elegance of the eighteenth century décor of the hotel. She entered the restaurant, and was shown to Madame Gautier's table.

"Madame Gautier has been slightly delayed," said the Maitre d' politely. "She is on her way and hopes to be here shortly."

Dinah sat down at the table, and was offered the menu. She looked round the room, appreciating its quality. She suddenly started in surprise. Why, Isabelle is here, she thought, obviously waiting for her own lunch guest. Isabelle Lynton was seated at a table in the window, perusing the menu, and had obviously not seen Dinah enter the restaurant. How attractive she is, thought Dinah, admiringly. What is it about French women that makes them so stylish and chic?

Of all the women in the family, Dinah had always considered Isabelle to be the most beautiful. Her thick, dark chestnut hair had been cut in a new very smart bob, sweeping softly over to one side. Her lovely face was perfectly made up, and she wore a very elegant grey dress, dressed with a simple row of pearls, pearl ear-rings and a double ring of pearls as a bracelet on her elegant wrist. She looked considerably younger than forty-seven, thought Dinah.

I'll surprise her, she thought to herself, and go across and say hello. She got up from the table, and took a couple of steps towards Isabelle's table across the room. She suddenly stopped, as she saw Isabelle look up towards the door and smile widely. A dark haired man, obviously French, was walking quickly towards her. "Cherie, je suis désolé," he said. On reaching the table, he kissed Isabelle on both cheeks and sat down opposite her, as they both began to chat animatedly.

He was the sort of man who immediately commanded attention, and within minutes, a waiter had brought two glasses of champagne to the table. Isabelle and her companion clinked glasses gently and sipped their champagne. The man picked up her hand and kissed it intimately.

Oh God, thought Dinah, having retreated to her table. If she looks up, she'll see me. What shall I do? She quickly got up and sat the other side of the table, her back now to Isabelle and her companion. Her heart was beating rapidly in shock. Poor Roger, she thought to herself. I wonder if he knows.

She resolved there and then to say nothing, not even to Alastair, of the scene she had just witnessed.

* * *

"Morning, Julia," Snubby walked into his office and smiled at his secretary. Just like clockwork, she was always in the office at 0830, at least half an hour before he was, to open the post and make a start on the day's work.

"Good morning, Mr Lynton," replied Julia, typing away. "Your 1045 appointment with Mr Lapsley has had to be postponed," she said. "He can't be in London this morning, but we have rearranged it for tomorrow at two o'clock. I hope that's all right."

"Of course," answered Snubby, cheerfully. "Don Lapsley doesn't change appointments unless he has to. Tomorrow will do fine. Mr Lownes is presumably still due at nine fifteen?"

"Yes, the appointment has been confirmed," smiled Julia.

He walked into his office and sat down at his desk. Julia appeared a few minutes later with his coffee and then retreated to her own desk. His in-tray was full, as usual, and he began to look through his post. He then picked up the letter which he had received the previous day from a firm of London solicitors unknown to him, Clutterbuck, Lownes & Co. The letter was headed, "Rockingdown Hall, Rockingdown, Dorset", and he re-read it.

The letter referred to the recent sale of Rockingdown Hall which was originally to be auctioned on 12 October in Dorchester, and which the writer understood had been sold privately in advance of the auction to Peter Lynton Properties.

It explained that their client, who wished to remain anonymous, had planned to make a bid for the property at auction, and was extremely disappointed that a sale had been agreed, and contracts exchanged in advance.

The letter went on to claim that their client had known the property well many years ago when it was a prep school and had intended to convert the property once again to a private school, and refurbish it.

They therefore wished to make an offer to Peter Lynton Properties of £550,000, subject to exchange of contracts within three weeks.

He had first read the letter in disbelief. He knew he had paid a generous price to secure Rockingdown Hall, but ... £550,000? That amounted to £125,000 more than he had paid, and he knew there was no way the property was worth that much, even at 1986 prices. It needed considerable investment to make it even habitable.

He had no plans to sell, but he did want to know what was behind this, and so he had called Mr Robin Lownes, the signatory, and suggested a meeting in his office. Mr Lownes had readily agreed, and he was now due in about five minutes. This should be interesting, thought Snubby.

His telephone rang. "Mr Lownes has arrived, Mr Lynton," said Julia.

"Please show him in, Julia."

Robin Lownes was of medium height with light brown hair, receding from his forehead. Snubby asked him to take a seat and sat back and smiled.

"Thank you for coming over," said Snubby politely. "I was somewhat surprised to receive your letter yesterday, and I thought it would be best to have a face to face discussion."

"Of course. I think my letter was self-explanatory, and no doubt you appreciate my client is making a very generous offer which I hope you will consider."

"It's extremely generous and in fact quite unexpected," continued Snubby. "I am not of course planning to sell. My firm has purchased the property with a view to converting it to a quality country house hotel. We are currently awaiting planning permission."

"I appreciate that, Mr Lynton," continued Robin Lownes, "but I am sure you appreciate an offer such as this should be considered. The property holds considerable sentimental value for my client because he was once a pupil at the school run by Miss Townsend in the late sixties, and for that reason he is prepared to make such an offer. It will of course allow your firm to purchase another suitable property for conversion."

"May I ask the name of your client?" asked Snubby, intrigued.

"I am sorry, but he wishes to remain anonymous and for us to act on his behalf. The offer is quite genuine, I assure you."

"I quite understand, but I have to tell you that I have now been in business for almost twenty-five years and I have always made it a rule that any negotiations I undertake are always face to face with the client concerned." Snubby smiled. "I always like to be able to look people in the eye when I am doing business – it's simply the way I operate. I am quite happy to meet your client, but those are my terms of business."

"I'm sorry but my client is quite adamant he wishes to maintain his privacy. I am afraid that if you insist on knowing his identity, there will be no deal."

"But I am not looking for a deal, Mr Lownes," Snubby said lightly. "As I have said, I am not looking to sell, but I am prepared to meet your client and discuss this directly. Unless he is prepared to do that, there is no point continuing this conversation."

"Very well," Robin Lownes looked annoyed. "I will report back, and let you know the outcome. Thank you for seeing me."

He shook hands, and left the office.

When he had left, Snubby sat back pensively. Well, what was that all about, he thought. He didn't believe the story. He knew that people with that kind of money do not make offers way above value just for sentimental reasons – rarely anyway. It just didn't ring true to him. The property was grade II listed, and he knew there was no possibility of mass development on the site. The planners had made that quite clear.

It's a mystery, he thought. He chuckled to himself. Another Rockingdown mystery, albeit a small one. He had no intention of selling, but someone wanted Rockingdown Hall very badly, and he was determined to find out why.

* * *

Dick Martin sat back in his office chair, and read the letter and report which he had received from his Bank that morning. He had given it a cursory glance when he had first opened it earlier in the day, but knew he would have to read it and know the worst by the time the day was over.

He muttered an expletive to himself, and got up and walked over to the drinks cabinet in his office. It was still only five o'clock, but what the hell. He poured a generous slug of whisky into a glass, added ice and soda, and returned to his desk.

What was he going to do? The Bank was threatening to foreclose because of his debts, which were now far beyond a level he could settle from his own resources, and he dreaded letting his father know the extent of it.

Despite having been retired for ten years, his father still took an active interest in the business which he had started almost forty years ago, and of which he, as the elder son, was now Managing Director. His father had started the hard way, as an antique dealer, buying and selling, and had subsequently established a sound and profitable business, subsequently establishing ten antique shops throughout the country.

He needed money, and he needed it soon, he thought desperately. There was only one solution. Given the terms of his grandmother's will, he had to persuade his cousin, Barney, and his uncle Barnabas to sell Rat-a-Tat House so that he could get his share.

He was furious at the idea of going to Barney with cap in hand. His grandmother had made her last will twenty years before she died, and before she went into the nursing home. As one of her five grandchildren, he had expected a significant share of her estate. Until Barney arrived on the scene, when he was fifteen, Dick had been the eldest grandchild – he, his brother James and sisters Pam and Libby had been the only grandchildren, in fact. His uncle Barnabas had had a short and ill-conceived marriage to a circus girl – she had bolted after three months – and his Aunt Katherine had never married. He had had every right to believe he would be favoured well in his grandmother's will, and be one of her executors. Barney had changed all that, he thought bitterly.

He recalled Barney's arrival out of the blue that summer as the long lost son of his uncle Barnabas – the son he hadn't known existed and born from his short marriage. There had never been any proof, of course, that Barney was actually his son – yes, there was a resemblance, but perhaps Teresa Lorimer had had a penchant for blond, blue-eyed men.

He had tried to keep his feelings of resentment hidden over the years – his siblings had admired and liked Barney, particularly his sisters, and he had watched with growing anger at the way Barney had been accepted wholeheartedly into the family, his family. As far as his grandmother was concerned, Barney had become quite literally the blue-eyed boy.

Under the terms of her will, she had left the major part to her three children and an individual inheritance to each of her grandchildren. He had been incensed to learn that his own share was to be a derisory five thousand pounds, the majority of his share going directly to his son, Toby. His uncle Barnabas and Barney had been appointed executors of her will and trustees of Rat-a-Tat House, left for the benefit of all her grandchildren. They had complete control. Not even his own father had been appointed as an executor or trustee. He finished his drink and walked over to the drinks cabinet to pour another.

Like all the Martin men, Dick Martin was tall, well-built and had handsome, finely chiselled features, but had inherited the dark hair and brown eyes of his mother. His good looks and easy charm had always attracted the opposite sex. Since he was sixteen he had been attracting girls. He had always prided himself, in fact, in getting any girl he wanted, and he always had – with the exception of Diana Lynton.

He and Diana were roughly the same age – there were a few months between them – and of course they were of similar backgrounds. In her teens, she had resisted his charms, despite his best efforts, and the more she resisted, the more he had wanted her. He had always loved her dark glossy raven hair, creamy skin, blue-grey eyes and her slim lithe body. She was intelligent, confident and amusing and of course she oozed class – oozed it.

He had been convinced that once she graduated from Bath and was working in London, he would have his chance with her. And then suddenly, Barney and she were an item and engaged by the time she graduated, encouraged by her parents and his own grandmother. He had not only taken his birthright but also his girl.

She was far too good for Barney. Had Barney's father not paved the way for him in his theatre career, he would never have been as successful as he had, he thought bitterly. Even now, Dick always flirted outrageously with Diana whenever he had the chance because he knew it irritated Barney.

He had subsequently married the daughter of a landowner in Suffolk, but the marriage had foundered ten years ago when unfortunately his wife had discovered he had romantic interests in another direction. That had been costly, he considered. Since then, he had remained single but enjoyed female company whenever he had the opportunity.

After his grandmother's death, Barney and his father had been adamant that it had been Maria Martin's wish that Rat-a-Tat House passed through the generations and remained unsold – to remain in trust to avoid inheritance tax. It was, however, a discretionary trust, which meant the trustees could opt to sell it and divide the proceeds equally between the beneficiaries – Maria's five grandchildren. This would involve tax liabilities for all concerned, but it was the only way in which Dick would receive his share of the property, now a valuable pile in Lincolnshire.

He knew he had to find a way of making Barney sell it, and sell it soon. If he didn't, both the family business and he would be finished.

To be continued...