The performance

Lady Pennington disliked Verdi. She scanned the boxes for something more interesting. The usual uninspiring lot. The Duchess was looking well considering her troubles. There was Lord Arthur with his daughters, the eldest alone—young Martinson had left for the academy. And Mrs Cartwright in her American coat looking all out of sorts. Some people never mastered graceful boredom.

There were the Burton-Shaws’ with their wilful daughter. Lady Pennington remembered the girl’s unseemly boisterousness. A young man was by her side now. Surely a new beau, his hand in hers, as brazen as country bumpkins.  The Lady looked closer. He seemed both foreign and familiar. French, perhaps. That would be typical of the girl. He appeared well connected. There was a certain carriage, a way of being in the world that set people apart. She felt sure she’d met him. Perhaps at Ascot.

Clare Burton-Shaw leant close to her French lover. ‘She’s trying to place you. Look at her screwed up face.’

Mark Parker, Lady Pennington’s former Master of Horses, hazarded a glance towards his Ladyship, so caught up in haughty self-righteousness. To the Burton-Shaws it was all no more than a delicious game. Parker had happily joined in.

Clare waited until Lady Pennington was watching then took his face and kissed him with an open hungry mouth.