“Oh!” Fiona stopped dead on the threshold of Mr Cunningham’s study. “Hello, Roddy. I was expecting to meet with your father.”
Roddy Cunningham got up from behind the desk.
“He’s indisposed. I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with me. Come in, for goodness’ sake, Fiona, I don’t bite, you know.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to remind him that on almost every other occasion when they’d been alone together, Roddy had indeed tried to “bite”. She didn’t exactly relish the idea of being alone with him, but nor did she want to let Matthew down. Securing support for the clinic from the Cunninghams would make an enormous difference to so many people, and besides, she wasn’t a naïve wee lassie fresh from the islands any more.
Fiona closed the door decisively, and crossed the room to take Roddy’s outstretched hand, relieved and just a whit surprised to discover his touch both brief and impersonal.
“I hope Mr Cunningham’s indisposition is not serious,” she said, perching herself on a straight-backed seat in front of the impressive walnut desk.
“I’m rather afraid it is.” Roddy sighed meaningfully. “My father has had a breakdown of sorts. He has simply been unable to cope with the demands of the business,” he said.
Now that she could see him more clearly, Fiona was taken aback by the change in her ex-employer’s elder son. Gone was that devil-may-care glint in his eyes. Instead he looked very much as if he bore the weight of the world upon his shoulders.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “That must be hard on you all.” Forgetting all about the need to keep her distance, she leaned across the desk to touch Roddy’s hand sympathetically.
The old Roddy would have had no hesitation in taking advantage of such a gesture, but this Roddy merely smiled wearily.
“He’s a dinosaur in a world that’s changing too fast for him to cope with. The engines we make are almost obsolete, and as for the working practices at the factory! My father might think my obsession with automobiles is some sort of playboy’s desire to build his own toys, but I know what I’m talking about.
“We need to change our production process and we need to diversify if we are to survive. We could be the first company in Glasgow to go into motor vehicle production, but if my father has anything to do with it we’ll be the last, so perhaps it’s for the best that he’s been forced to take a step back.” Roddy forced a smile then sighed.
“You see, there’s a silver lining in every cloud. Forgive me, I don’t know why I’m telling you all this.”
Beneath that cocky exterior Roddy was obviously lonely, Fiona realised, and he was struggling to step up to the mark, while trying not to show it.
“How is your mother coping?” she asked tentatively.
“You know my mother. I sometimes think she lives inside a bubble. She talks about my father as if he’s just developed a nasty cold. And as to the business . . .” Roddy broke off with a bitter laugh. “As I said, you know my mother, but you did not come here to discuss my problems, did you? Tell me about this clinic. No, I mean it, Fiona,” he continued when she hesitated. “I know you think I’m a bounder, and heaven knows I’ve given you no reason to think otherwise, but things are different now. This is the twentieth century, and I am not my father. So tell me, what is it you want of us?”