????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.