Six (2)

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"I like this one," Tallulah said.

She caressed a white horse's forehead, and Izzy's gaze drifted from the line of ponies towards the polo ground. Mr. Lang was unfortunately nowhere in sight.

Tallulah whispered to the pony, and Izzy caught herself before she rolled her eyes. She didn't care about the horses, and she remained at a safe distance from them. Grooms moved about the stalls, preparing the animals for the match and dressing them with their team colours. 

"Let's go back," she said, before Tallulah had time to pick another favourite.

They made their way to the spectators, ready for the match to begin. Most of them sat in folding chairs, with umbrellas protecting them from the sunshine and wicker hampers open on the grass for their picnic. The weather was glorious for such an outing.

In the middle of the crowd, Vita sat on a large blanket with her legs tucked under her and Pixie at her feet. Archie and Mr. Lawrence stood a couple of steps away, talking with their eyes on the emerald turf. Vita blew out a stream of smoke, lost in thought. A blue paisley scarf was wrapped across her forehead and matched her blue silk chiffon dress. Izzy pretended she wasn't envious of her effortless style. She had spent half an hour deciding on what to wear for this occasion before settling on a House of Lucile fuchsia silk beaded dress. She had thought it a wise choice, one that would impress on Mr. Lang her natural elegance. But of course, Vita had to show up wearing a French design from the House of Worth, and to sit there like she owned the place.

"There you are," a smooth male voice said behind Izzy, distracting her from her train of thoughts.

Tallulah and she turned around, and Izzy's breath caught in her throat. Mr. Lang's white polo outfit dazzled in the sunlight, and he casually carried his helmet and mallet.

"I'm delighted you could come," he added.

Finding her voice again, Izzy replied something appropriate, but her mind was already going through the topics of conversation she had rehearsed in her bathroom. She just wished her heartbeat wasn't out of control.

"Will you join us after the match?" Tallulah asked.

She pointed at Vita on the blanket and Izzy could have slapped her. She didn't need her to remind Mr. Lang there were other debutantes in attendance.

"We've brought our picnic," Izzy said, her words coming out high and rushed despite herself. "I'm sure you won't say no to a glass of Pimm's after the match?"

"How can I refuse?"

Mr. Lang smiled, and Izzy hoped her cheeks didn't flush.

"See you later, then! And good luck!"

He walked to the pony lines, his black boots a stark contrast to the green lawn. Izzy waited until he was out of her sight to join Vita on their picnic blanket. Meanwhile, Tallulah made her way to the clubhouse's veranda, where her mother and Lady Rhodes drank claret and laughed loudly. Quite the chaperones, they were. Izzy wouldn't have said no to a strong drink herself, if it would ensure she finished the day with another invitation from Mr. Lang.

To get him off her mind, she proceeded to empty their hamper onto the blanket. She shooed Pixie away from the fabric, and the dog ran to Archie who put it on a lead. Izzy lined up silverware and plates alongside food containers filled with potted shrimps and mayonnaise, cold ham and asparagus, cucumber sandwiches and Scotch eggs, plums and strawberries. If there was one thing Lady Shaftesbury's cook was good at, it was putting together the most delicious picnics in England.

While she busied herself with her preparations, Izzy cast a few glances at Vita, who stared into the distance with a vacant gaze.

"What's wrong?"

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