Celine looked out to see Daniel on the street, arguing with another man. The dark blue uniform marked him out as a policeman and her heart sank.
‘What on earth is going on here?’ Maria strode forward and interrupted the shouting men.
‘I’m being accused of theft!’ Daniel blurted.
‘Not theft exactly, ma’am. He has paid for these goods but at a reduced price to that which the vendor demanded.’ The policeman gestured towards a waiting horse and cart, an ancient piano sitting within.
‘The vendor is the rogue. He reneged on our deal at the last moment. That is what I have been trying to make this numbskull understand!’ Daniel hit the side of the cart in anger.
‘Daniel!’ Celine took his arm and moved him away from the policeman and the cart, whose drive looked none too pleased to have his vehicle abused. ‘What happened?’
‘Nora knew this fellow over in London Bridge who was selling off odd pieces of furniture, and she heard that he had a piano that he wanted rid of. I knew that you missed playing and it was going to be an early Christmas present for you. It was supposed to be a surprise.’
‘And it is,’ Celine assured him. ‘So what happened?’
‘Nora was going over to London Bridge on another errand so I asked her to ask the price for me. It seemed like a fair deal, what he offered her, and so I engaged transportation to pick it up today and arranged the funds to pay the man what he’d asked.’
‘And when you turned up this so-called gentleman took one look at you and raised his price,’ Maria guessed. ‘By how much?’
He told her and even the policeman whistled in shock. ‘Double!’
‘Well, that’s a case of daylight robbery if ever I heard it.’ Maria turned to the law. ‘Sir, surely there’s some agreement that can be made. What does the vendor say for himself? Daniel, I presume you paid him the original amount?’
Daniel nodded and the policeman looked troubled. ‘The vendor insists that he did not give permission for this gentleman to remove the item. He calls it theft as only half the requested payment was made.’
‘Very well. Do you have paper? A pencil or something similar?’ Maria asked and the man nodded. She dictated her address to him, his hand stumbling as he realised the location. ‘Have this man send his bill to my husband. We will not pay him the full asking price but if he can devise a fair amount between the two then I am sure the matter can be considered settled.’
‘Maria, I can’t let you do this,’ Daniel protested.
‘Call it an early Christmas present from the McCarthy’s if you must, but let us get this infernal instrument into the house. Celine, your neighbours are staring at us.’
Celine turned to see Mrs Carlisle watching the commotion from her front step. She cursed inwardly: this was hardly the best impression to make on her new neighbour. Celine tried to smile and raised a hand in greeting but Mrs Carlisle did not return either gesture. Instead she turned and walked back into her house.
‘Oh dear,’ Maria said.
The matter with the piano was soon resolved, but when Celine went to call upon Mrs Carlisle that Thursday she was told that the mistress was out. To make clear the insult, she saw Mrs Carlisle clearly through the window as she returned to the street, watching her leave with a face of stone.