????IF Nina hadnt bugged me, Id never have gone to Annie Richmonds party.
????Cedric is beginning to take you for granted, she said, hurling clothes into a weekend case.
????Cedric, I said crossly, is getting his career together. As soon as hes adopted as acandidate, well get married.
????Because its better for candidates to have wives, said Nina. He shouldnt leave you alone somuch. Your first weekend back from holiday, looking a million and a half dollars - anyone elsewouldnt be able to keep his hands off you - but old Seedcake just swans off to anotherpolitical rally.
????Im very happy about my relationship with Cedric. And thats mine, I snapped, removing ayellow shirt she was surreptitiously packing in one corner of her case. Cedric keeps me on thestraight and narrow, I went on.
????Hes turned you into a bore, said Nina. You used to be lovely company when you were playingfast and loose with half of London.
????I want a sense of purpose in my life, I protested. I dont want to die in Chelsea with myknickers down.
????Nina went to the mirror and started slapping Man-tan all over her face.
????Where are you off to? I said.
????Home. I dont want my mother fussing about me looking washed out - and tomorrow Im going outwith an amazingly dishy new man. Now arent you jealous?
????No, I lied. You just give up certain things when youre engaged.
????Like fun. Just because Seedcakes put a ring on your finger, he thinks hes entitled toneglect you all the time. I think you ought to go to Annie Richmonds orgy; shes got thisfantastically good-looking cousin coming. If he gave you a whirl, youd soon forget aboutSeedcake.
????Dont call him that, I stormed. Anyway, Ive nothing in common with Annie Richmonds friendsany more.
????Nina laughed meaningly. You mean Cedric hasnt. She reminds him of your past and that come-hither look your eyes had once. Youre scared of going because you think you might fancysomeone. If you were really hooked on Seedcake, you wouldnt be frightened to go.
????I felt depressed after shed gone. Id done all the boring things like washing my hair,shaving my legs and doing my nails yesterday, in the hope that I might see Cedric tonight.After a few minutes moping I settled down to half-heartedly cleaning the flat, then washing thesuntan-oil out of a few shirts.
????I looked at Cedrics photograph beside my bed, thought how good-looking he was, then I reada book on Conservative policy. It was incredibly boring and nearly sent me to sleep. Cedrictelephoned - as he said he would - on the dot of ten oclock.
????How heavenly to hear you, darling, I said, overwhelmed with love. How are you?
????Oh, full of beans, he said in his hooray, political voice, which meant there were people inthe room. As he told me what a success the meeting had been and how well his speech had gone, Iexamined the diamond and sapphire ring hed given me.
????Finally he said, What are you going to do with yourself all weekend?
????Annie Richmonds throwing an orgy, I said lightly. As youre not here, I was thinking ofgoing.
????Cedric laughed heartily and disbelievingly. I thought youd grown out of that sort of party,he said. I must go darling. Ill ring you on Monday and well have dinner. Take care of yourself;and remember, no orgies. Theyre bad for my reputation.
????I put the telephone down feeling extremely irritated. What was the point of spending tendays alone in the South of France - Cedric naturally couldnt get away - boring myself sillygetting a suntan for his sake, when he wasnt around to appreciate it?
????I looked out at the September evening - the dusk with its suggestion of autumn and nightsdrawing in and another year passing, sent shivers of excitement down my spine. I thought of sexand sin and all the men in the world Id never have the chance to get my hands on now.
????It was such a long, long time since Id been to a good party. Cedric thought all my friendsso frivolous and idiotic, hed scared them away.
????I looked at his photograph again - short, fair hair, clear, blue eyes, a determined chin.
????Life is earnest, life is real, I said to myself firmly. Cedric would hate me to go to AnnieRichmonds orgy, so I wont go.
????An hour later, feeling horribly guilty, I crept up the stairs to Annie Richmonds flat,having heard the roar of the party all the way down the street. Annie opened the door.
????Emily, she cried joyfully, giving me a huge hug. I never dreamed youd come.
????She was wearing a dress so cut out there was hardly any of it left. I was wearing abackless black dress, pretty low at the front and welded together with safety pins, as usual,which Id never dared show Cedric. Id put on weight since I last wore it and was falling out allover the place. I just hoped I looked a bit like Sophia Loren.
????Annie looked at me with approval. Stripped for action thats more like the old Emily, shesaid, handing me a glass.
????Ive only just popped in for a quick drink, I said. Cedrics away.
????I know, she smiled knowingly. Theres lots of talent in there, so go in and forage foryourself.
????The next room was impossibly, clamorously full of good-looking people trying to shout eachother down. I felt very nervous, so I drank my disgusting drink straight down, and quickly hadanother. I didnt know a soul, but then Annie turned over her friends so fast.
????A handsome Australian in a red shirt came over and started to chat me up. His eyessmouldered under bushy black eyebrows.
????I knew that look of old: I feel I know every inch of you already, so lets get on with it -it stated unequivocally.
????Bloody awful row, he said. Pity I cant lip-read. He gazed at my mouth and then at mydecolletage, which was descending fast. Any minute Id be topless. I gave it a tug.
????The shivers of excitement which had assailed me in the flat overwhelmed me again. Isquashed the feeling and started to shout to him about Cedric and his political career. He canthave heard much of what I was saying, but got the message and drifted off.
????I was then collared by a kind of ancient mariness, a model with long red hair and skinnywhite hands, who went on and on about her split ends.
????Suddenly there was a commotion by the door.
????But Annie, said a mans voice, I thought I was coming to an orgy. Where are the wall-to-wallcouples? The lovely girls in tiger skins?
????Split Ends caught her breath. I, like everyone else, turned around. My jaw clanged - forstanding in the doorway was one of the most sensationally attractive men I had ever seen. Hewas tall, with broadish shoulders, long black hair, restless dark eyes with a wicked gleam inthem, and an arrogant sulky mouth. He oozed sexuality. He looked round the room, as cool andhaughty as a prince, yet he had an explosive quality - Ive come out of the jungle and no onesgoing to tame me, he seemed to say. Every woman in the room was going mad with desire; meincluded. The only problem was a very beautiful dark girl dressed in what looked like a bikinientirely made of flowers, who was hanging possessively on his arm.
????You promised me an orgy, Annie, he said, coldly. All I can see here is a debs tea-party.
????Annie Richmond took him and the dark girl by the arm and hustled them towards the bar.
????Itll start warming up soon, I could hear her saying. Theres a lot of fun people cominglater.
????I noticed she gave him a whole bottle of whisky to himself, while the rest of us had tomake do with the revolting cough mixture.
????Gradually the conversation started to soar and dip again. Whos that? everyone was asking.
????I turned to Split Ends. Whos that? I said.
????She looked at me incredulously. You mean to say you dont know?
????A stockbroker with a pink face whose eyes were about level with my cleavage, came past andfilled up our glasses.
????Thats Rory Balniel, he said. Hes a bit of a menace.
????Hes Annies cousin, said Split Ends, watering at the mouth, and quite the most evil man inLondon.
????In what way? I asked.
????Oh, getting drunk and breaking peoples hearts deliberately. Everything you can think of,and a lot more besides.
????He looks like the leader of a Cossack horde, I said. What nationality is he?
????Scottish, with foreign, I think French, on one side. His family own masses of land in theHighlands, but all the moneys tied up in trusts, and he cant get his hands on it. Hes been sentdown from everywhere imaginable. He hit London about a month ago. I dont think hes been sobersince.
????Hes a bit of a menace, repeated the stockbroker, looking longingly at my cleavage.
????Hes supposed to be a very good painter, said Split Ends.
????The only thing hes been painting recently is the town red, said the stockbroker.
????He treats women appallingly, said Split Ends. Has he treated you appallingly? I asked.
????Not yet, she said with a sigh, but Im working on it.
????I looked around again. Rory Balniel was leaning against the mantelpiece. Two girls wholooked as though the head groom had been polishing and currycombing them for weeks, so sleekand patently glossy were they, were vying for his attention.
????He filled up their glasses from the whisky bottle, then suddenly, he lifted his head,yawned slightly and looked in my direction. I shot him a glance I hadnt used in months. One ofpure naked come hithering sex. It didnt work. He looked away without interest.
????Hard luck, said Split Ends, avidly drinking in this classic case of indifference at firstsight. Youre obviously not his type.
????Hes probably queer, I said crossly. Most Don Juans are latent homosexuals anyway.
????Split Ends looked at me pityingly, then grabbed a plate of food from a nearby table.
????Im going to offer him a stuffed date, she said with a giggle, and wheeled across the roomtowards him.
????I turned my back and talked to the stockbroker. It was a calculated gesture. If anythingwas likely to turn Rory Balniel on, it was my back - brown, smooth and bare from the nape of myneck almost to the base of my spinal column, unmarred by any bikini marks.
????I imagined his dark, restless eyes ranging over me and thinking, Thats the sort of girl whosunbathes without a bikini top. Mettlesome, ready for anything, even being treated appallinglyby Rory Balniel.
????But when I looked around, he was talking to Split Ends, and was still hemmed in by themasses.
????Sexless beast, I decided; or perhaps its my sex appeal thats slipping.
????Cedric was right. These people were frivolous and uninteresting. The evening wore on.People were dancing in the next room, drinking a lot and necking a little. No one was actuallyorgying. I kept making up my mind to go home, but some instinctive lack of self-preservationmade me stay. I felt jolted, uneasy and horribly aware of Rory Balniel. There was anunconscious glitter about him, a sinister stillness that set him apart from everyone else. Onehad to admit his force.
????Split Ends and the girl hed arrived with, who I discovered was called Tiffany (I bet shemade it up), were still trying to engage his attention. He was laughing a lot at their jokes,but a little late on cue. As he filled his glass, his hand was quite steady. Only the glint inhis eyes betrayed how much hed drunk.
????Annie Richmond went up to him and removed the bottle of whisky, Rory, love, I dont mean tonag.
????Women always say that when theyre about to nag, he said, taking the whisky back from her.
????People were really getting uncorked now. Couples had disappeared into rooms, a beautifulAfrican girl was dancing by herself. A fat man was telling filthy stories to an ugly Americangirl who had passed out on the floor. The Australian in the red shirt, who had chatted me upearlier, turned out to be Split Ends boyfriend. He was not pleased at her paying so muchattention to Rory Balniel and came strutting into the room wearing a Mickey Mouse mask,expecting everyone to laugh.
????Where did you get that mask? said Rory Balniel.
????Annie gave it to me.
????You should wear it all the time. Every day. Always. To the office. It suits you. Gives yourface a distinction it didnt have before.
????Dont be stupid, said the Australian furiously, wrenching off the mask. He nearly trippedover the ugly American girl who was now snoring on the floor.
????She ought to be moved, he said fussily.
????Shes quite happy, said Rory Balniel. I expect she needs sleep. Anyway, she gives the room alived-in feeling.
????Shes giving people a bad impression of the party, said the Australian.
????Not nearly so much as when shes awake, said Rory Balniel. He was trying to balance a glasson one of his fingers. His eyes had gone out of focus. He looked like a Siamese cat. The glasscrashed to the floor.
????Split Ends and Tiffany howled with laughter. A blonde, attracted by the tinkle of brokenglass, came over and joined the group.
????I hear you paint, she said, Id love to sit for you sometime.
????Rory Balniel looked her over. But would you lie for me later, darling? Thats the point.
????He started to undo the buttons of Split Ends dress.
????I say, said the pink-faced stockbroker. You cant do that here. Unfair to Annie. Know what Imean?
????No, said Rory Balniel unpleasantly.
????He had now undone all Split Ends buttons to reveal a very dirty bra.
????Dont, she said crossly, trying to do them up again.
????His dark face set into a mask of malice. If you throw yourself open to the public,sweetheart, you must expect people to want to see over you.
????Split Ends flounced off.
????Good riddance, said the blonde, snuggling up to him.
????Shes a silly cow, he said unemotionally, draining his drink.
????What did you say? said the Australian, who was still smarting under the crack about theMickey Mouse mask. Are you referring to my girlfriend?
????I was referring to the silly cow, said Rory Balniel. I think she is a silly cow. Dont tryto get tough with me, Kangaroo, or Ill throw you out of here, all the way to Kangaroo Country,and dont think I wouldnt. He picked up a wine bottle and deliberately smashed it on the edge ofthe mantelpiece and then, holding the neck of the bottle, brandished the jagged end in theAustralians face.
????The Australian clenched his fists. Ill call the police, he said, half-heartedly.
???? What are you going to call the police? said Rory Balniel.
????He picked up another glass from the mantelpiece, and deliberately smashed it on the floor.
????The Australian puffed out his cheeks, and then beat a hasty retreat.
????The two girls roared with laughter again, enjoying themselves hugely. Then they lookedaround for the next distraction.
????Hes absolutely poisonous, I decided. How does anyone put up with him?
????Picking his way disapprovingly over the broken pieces of glass, the little stockbroker cameover and asked me to dance.
????I told you he was a menace, did I not? he asked in an undertone.
????He then proceeded to make the most ferocious passes at me on the dance floor. I can neverunderstand why little men are so lecherous. I suppose its more concentrated. Fortunately, oneof my safety pins gave way and plunged into him, which cooled his ardour a bit. But two secondslater he was back on the attack.
????A quarter of an hour later, black and blue and as mad as a wet hen, I returned to collectmy bag. I was really leaving this time. I found Rory Balniel was sitting on the sofa - Tiffanyand the blonde on either side of him. Both girls were fondling hands with each other acrosshim, but were so tight, neither of them realized it.
????Rory, darling, whispered the blonde.
????Rory, angel, murmured Tiffany.
????It looked so ridiculous I burst out laughing. He looked up and started to laugh too.
????I think theyre made for each other, he said. And extracting himself, got up and came over.
????I leaned against the wall, partly because I was slewed, partly because my legs wouldnt holdme up. The impact of this man, close up, was absolutely faint-making.
????Hullo, he said.
????Hullo, I said. Ive always been a wizard at repartee. He looked me over consideringly - andhe was, undoubtedly, a man who knew how to look.
????The drink has run out, he said, taking a final slug of whisky from the bottle.
????He had very white, even teeth, but his fingers were quite heavily stained with nicotine.
????What did you say your name was? he said. His voice had lost its earlier bitchy ring - itwas soft and husky now.
????I didnt, I said, but since you ask, its Emily.
????Emily - pretty name, old-fashioned name. Are you an old-fashioned girl?
????Depends what you mean by old-fashioned - prunes and prisms Victorian or Nell Gwyn?
????He took my hand.
????Hes drunk, I said to myself firmly, trying not to faint with excitement.
????Youre like a little Renoir, he said.
????Are those the outsize ones, all grapes and rippling with flesh? I said.
????Thats Rubens. Renoirs are soft and blonde and blue-eyed, with pink flesh tones. Its funny,he added, shooting me an X-certificate look, youre not my tyye at all, but you excite the hellout of me.
????I remember looking down and seeing my fingers curling and clinging round his, and seeingthe one with the longest nail digging itself into the centre of his palm, and being quiteunable to stop myself.
????Then suddenly I felt his fingers on my engagement ring.
????I tried to jerk my hand away, but he held on to it, and examined the ring carefully.
????Who gave that to you? he said.
????Cedric, I said. My - er - fiancé. Its a terrible word, isnt it? I gave a miserable,insincere little giggle. Its a terrible ring, too, he said.
????It cost a lot of money, I said defensively.
????Why isnt he here?
????I explained about Cedric being in Norfolk and furthering his political career.
????How long have you been engaged?
????Nearly eighteen months.
????The smile Rory Balniel gave me wasnt at all pleasant. Does he make love on all threechannels? he said.
????I tried, but failed, to look affronted. He doesnt make love to me much at all, I muttered.
????Rory Balniel was swinging the empty whisky bottle between finger and thumb.
????He doesnt care about you at all, does he?
????Cedric and I have a good thing going.
????If youre mad about a girl, you dont let her out of your sight.
????Instinctively my eyes slid to Tiffany, who was now sleeping peacefully, her head on theblonde girls shoulder.
????Im not exactly mad about her, he said.
????Shes stunning looking, I said, wistfully.
????He shrugged his shoulders.
????Rolls-Royce body maybe, but Wandsworth mind.
????I giggled again. Suddenly he bent his head and kissed my bare shoulder. I could feel theripples of excitement all the way down to my toes. Any moment my dress, safety pins and all,was going to burst into flames. I could have died with excitement.
????I took a deep breath. Ive got a bottle of whisky at home, I said.
????Well, lets blow then, he said.
????I WASNT proud of my behaviour. I knew I was treating Cedric abominably, but then Id neverbefore in my life seen such a distilled essence of temptation as Rory Balniel. And, like OscarWilde, Ive always been able to resist anything except temptation.
????We wandered along the Kings Road, trying to find a taxi, and giggling a great deal as wetried out all the baths sitting outside the bath shop. Then we passed an art gallery. Rorypeered moodily through the window at the paintings.
????Look at that crap, he said. There but for the gracelessness of God go I, the greatestgenius of the twentieth century - which reminds me, Ive got to see a man about my painting ateleven tomorrow. Youd better set your alarm clock when we get home.
????Presumptuous, I thought. Does he think Ill succumb so easily?
????Rory suddenly saw a taxi and flagged it down. We kissed all the way home.
????God - I was enjoying myself. Id never felt a millionth of that raging, abandoned glory thewhole time Id known Cedric, but it was all tearing along much too fast. I was back-sliding atthe speed of light into my dreadful old pre-Cedric ways, and all the dreadful old unrespectablethings were going to happen to me. The downward path is easy, but theres no turning back.
????Stop the taxi, I wanted to scream. Let me out, take me to Liverpool Street, Ive got tocatch a fast train back to East Anglia, back to Cedric and sanity. Youll pay for this later,Emily. Youll be sorry; yes, you will!
????No one could have guessed from the ecstatic, passionate, writhing form in Rorys arms thatany sort of moral battle was raging inside me. Ill say goodbye to him firmly at the door, Itold myself. Then when we got to the door I thought: Ill just give him a very quick drink to besociable and then out he goes.
????No sooner had I got to the flat, and given him some whisky, than I rushed off to thebathroom, cleaned my teeth and emptied half a bottle of Ninas scent over myself. I then wentand removed the Georgette Heyer from beside my bed, and replaced it with a couple ofintellectual French novels.
????I went into the drawing-room.
????Where did you learn to mix whisky like this? he said.
????Im precocious, I said lightly, because of my unhappy childhood.
????Tell me about your unhappy childhood.
????I was violated by budgerigar at the age of two. It coloured my whole life.
????Thats a nice colour to have your life coloured.
????That sort of patter got him across the room. I sat down on the sofa; he sat beside me.
????Well? he said, smiling at me but making no move.
????I hunted round nervously for something to say. Er, when do you do your painting?
????Keep still, he said, youve got something in your hair.
????I never knew if I had or I hadnt. But he removed whatever it was and then, unsmilingly, hecame closer and kissed me.
????After a bit, I had a pang of conscience and tried to push him away.
????Youre a funny little girl, he said, but I like you, I really do.
????Ill make some coffee, I muttered. Really, I am engaged to Cedric and he wouldnt approve atall.
????Shut up, he said gently. This time he moved in slowly and deliberately. I had plenty oftime to move away, but instead I found myself leaning forward. With his free hand he began tostroke my face, then my neck. No, wait! Stop! I said to myself, but I couldnt move.
????Oh, baby, he said huskily. Were going to be so good together.
????The last thing I remember thinking was that Cedrics photograph should certainly have beenturned to the wall.
????It was halfway through the morning when I woke up. The sun was shining through the spacesin the drawn curtain; my skull was pounding and I was lying under the bedclothes, realizingsomething had gone horribly, horribly wrong.
????I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw Rory lying fast asleep beside me, with deepshadows under his eyes. He was dreadfully pale, and when he breathed I could see how near theskin his rib-cage was.
????I tried to gather my thoughts around my pounding skull. All I could think was what a stupidthing to have done - the first night Id met him.
????I looked at the clock. It was half past ten, and I remembered about waking him up to see aman about some paintings. I got up and washed. My face looked all blotchy, like garlicsausages, so I slapped on some casual-looking make-up. Then I threw about two hundred Alka-Seltzers into a glass and got back into bed.
????I think he was still drunk when I woke him up. He got up and drew the curtains, then gropedfor a cigarette.
????What happened last night?
????Oh, Rory, I wailed. Dont you remember anything?
????Well, I remember my childhood. Much of it spent among the sheep in Scotland. And beingsacked from Harrow, and being sent down from Oxford. I remember coming South to sell somepaintings. After that, it becomes a little blurred.
????We were at Annie Richmonds party, I said. So we were.
????And we both had quite a bit to drink and then we came back here.
????Well, well, well, he said, getting into the crumpled bed. And did we?
????Oh, God! Cant you remember that?
????Was I er did I perform adequately? He didnt seem embarrassed, only curious.
????You were absolutely sensational, thats what makes it so awful, I said and, rolling over, Iburied my face in the pillow and burst into tears.
????He stroked my hair, but I went on sobbing. Im not usually like this. I dont just pick upmen at parties and leap into bed with them on the first night. At least, not recently, Iwailed. And youd better step on it, youve got to see that man about your paintings at elevenoclock.
????So I have. Slowly he clambered out of bed and started to get dressed. I was shot throughwith misery, but I tried to make a joke of the situation.
????Dont think it hasnt been marvellous, because it hasnt, I said with a deliberate sniff.
????He laughed, and when he had dressed and cut himself shaving on Ninas pink plastic razor, hecame back into the bedroom and said, Dont forget me, will you? Or our night of passion.
????I put a pillow over my face. I bet you say that to all the girls you lay so expertly andcant remember the next morning, I said.
????See you, he said. Then he was gone.
????I went through every kind of hell wondering if hed come back. I castigated myself for theinsanity of going to Annie Richmonds party, for letting Rory make love to me - which, despitehis not remembering anything about it, had been an utterly intoxicating experience which wouldspoil me for Cedric for evermore.
????The telephone rang three times, each time for Nina, and each time the caller got his headbitten off for not being Rory. At four oclock, realizing he wasnt coming back, I got up, had abath, cried for an hour and then poured myself a large whisky. Really, I was acquiring a lot ofbad habits. Id be eating between meals soon!
????At six oclock the doorbell rang. Keep calm, I told myself. Play it cool. Its bound to bethe milkman, or some Salvation Army lady after loot.
????But it was Rory, swaying in the doorway and looking green. Ive just been sick in a window-box, he said.
????I laughed, trying to keep the joy out of my face. Come in, I said.
????He headed straight for the whisky. May I have a drink? he said. My hang-over ought to godown in medical history. Childbirth has nothing on it.
????He had the most awful shakes.
????Theres a reason for all this drinking, he went on. But at the moment, Im glad to say, Icant remember what it is. I really oughtnt to have come back - Im afraid Ive run out of money.
????Ive always wanted to keep a man, I said. Stick with me, baby, and youll be up to your earsin race-horses.
????Its not as bad as that. I got on well at the Art Gallery.
????Did he like your paintings? I said.
????He nodded. Hes going to give me an exhibition in the spring.
????But thats wonderful, I said. Youll be famous.
????I know. He peered in the mirror, pushing a lock of black hair out of his eyes. I dont thinkit suits me. I feel terrible.
????You ought to eat something, I said.
????Youre sweet. I wish I had a little sister like you - God, how maudlin can one get?
????In fact he was very ill all night and most of the next day; delirious and with a ragingtemperature, pouring with sweat, clinging to me, muttering incoherently and shaking like apuppy. On Sunday night, however, he felt better. Suddenly, picking up Cedrics photograph, hethrew it out of the window.
????That wasnt very friendly, I said, listening to the tinkle of broken glass.
????Whens he coming back?
????Tomorrow. Cedrics very good to me. He keeps me on the rails. Before I met him, it was onelayabout after another.
????The restless dark eyes travelled over me. Thats because youre a giver, Emily, and you hatehurting people. You slept with all those men because you couldnt say no rather than because youwanted to say yes.
????Oh, not always. Anyway, there werent that many of them - in single figures, that is.
????If I rang you up and asked you out, he went on undeterred, even if you didnt fancy me, youdsay yes because you couldnt bear to upset me. Then youd send me a cable at the last moment, orget one of your mates to ring up and say you were dying of food poisoning.
????How do you know? I said sulkily.
????I know, he said, and pulled me into his arms. The electric currents were rippling all overme again. Youre ill, I protested.
????Not that ill, he said.
????Im bored with living in sin, he said, a couple of hours later. Lets get married.
????I looked at him incredulously, reeling from the shock.
????Youd better send Cedric a telegram immediately, he said. I dont want him hanging aroundbeing a bloody nuisance to us.