“Is there some sort of foundation in her name?” says Tarquin. “When my uncle died—”
“Yes!” I say gratefully. “Exactly that. The. . the Ermintrude Bloomwood Foundation for. . violinists,” I improvise, catching sight of a poster for a musical evening. “Violinists in Mozambique. That was her cause.”
“Violinists in Mozambique?” echoes Tarquin.
“Oh, absolutely!” I hear myself babbling. “There’s a desperate shortage of classical musicians out there. And culture is so enriching, whatever one’s material circumstances.”
I can’t believe I’m coming out with all this rubbish. I glance apprehensively up at Tarquin — and to my complete disbelief, he looks really interested.
“So, what exactly is the foundation aiming to do?” he asks.
What am I getting myself into here?
“To. . to fund six violin teachers a year,” I say after a pause. “Of course, they need specialist training, and special violins to take out there. But the results will be very worthwhile. They’re going to teach people how to make violins, too, so they’ll be self-sufficient and not dependent on the West.”
“Really?” Tarquin’s brow is furrowed. Have I said something that doesn’t make sense?
“Anyway,” I give a little laugh. “That’s enough about me and my family. Have you seen any good films recently?”
This is good. We can talk about films, and then the bill will come, and then. .
“Wait a moment,” says Tarquin. “Tell me — how’s the project going so far?”
“Oh,” I say. “Ahm. . quite well. Considering. I haven’t really kept up with its progress recently. You know, these things are always—”
“I’d really like to contribute something,” he says, interrupting me.
He’d like to what?
“Do you know who I should make the check payable to?” he says, reaching into his jacket pocket. “Is it the Bloomwood Foundation?”
And as I watch, paralyzed in astonishment, he brings out a Coutts checkbook.
A pale gray Coutts checkbook.
The fifteenth richest man in the country.
“I’m. . I’m not sure,” I hear myself say, as though from a great distance. “I’m not sure of the exact wording.”
“Well, I’ll make it payable to you, then, shall I?” he says. “And you can pass it on.” Briskly he starts to write. Pay Rebecca Bloomwood.The sum of.Five. .
Five hundred pounds. It must be. He wouldn’t just give five miserable. . Thousand pounds.T. A. J. Cleath-Stuart.
I can’t believe my eyes. Five thousand pounds, on a check, addressed to me.
Five thousand pounds, which belongs to Aunt Ermintrude and the violin teachers of Mozambique.
If they existed.
“Here you are,” says Tarquin, and hands me the check — and as though in a dream, I find myself reaching out toward it.
Pay Rebecca Bloomwood the sum of five thousand pounds.
I read the words again slowly — and feel a wave of relief so strong, it makes me want to burst into tears. The sum of five thousand pounds. More than my overdraft and my VISA bill put together. This check would solve all my problems, wouldn’t it? It would solve all my problems in one go. And, OK, I’m not exactly violinists in Mozambique — but Tarquin would never know the difference, would he?
And anyway, what’s £5,000 to a multimillionaire like Tarquin? He probably wouldn’t even notice whether I paid it in or not. A pathetic £5,000, when he’s got £25 million! If you work it out as a fraction of his wealth it’s. . well, it’s laughable, isn’t it? It’s the equivalent of about fifty pence to normal people. Why am I even hesitating?
Tarquin is staring at me — and I realize my hand is still inches away from the check. Come on, take it, I instruct myself firmly. It’s yours. Take the check and put it in your bag. With a heroic effort, I stretch out my hand further, willing myself to close my fingers around the check. I’m getting closer. . closer. . almost there. . my fingers are trembling with the effort. .
It’s no good, I can’t. I just can’t do it. I can’t take his money.
“I can’t take it,” I say in a rush. I pull my hand away and feel myself flushing. “I mean. . I’m not actually sure the foundation is accepting money yet.”
“Oh right,” says Tarquin, looking slightly taken aback.
“I’ll tell you who to make a check payable to when I’ve got more details,” I say, and take a deep gulp of champagne. “You’d better tear that up.”