Nine (2)

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"Here come the horses!"

Tallulah pointed at the mounts emerging from the paddock and waved her racecard with a happy grin.

"Finally!" Izzy said.

This was what they'd come for after all, but by now no one in their party seemed to be interested in the race beside Tallulah. After disappearing for a while, Vita had returned alone, with muddy clothes and a faraway gaze, making Lady Rhodes glare and tut-tut with disapproval. Archie had joined them moments later, anger radiating from him in waves. His jaw tight and his gaze hard, he had asked Vita how she was, and they hadn't spoken after her evasive reply. Meanwhile Izzy ground her teeth. This had turned out to be such a dismal day.

"You look gloomy," Tallulah said, nudging Izzy with her elbow.

"You have to admit, it's all a bit boring," Izzy replied.

Tallulah's eager expression subsided. "Why do you say that? Flat racing is the most exciting sport there is! Otherwise why would all these people be here?"

She gestured at the huge crowds gathered beside the track, on top of their vehicles and on the Hill. Izzy shrugged.

"Because they've never known better and they don't mind losing their money on the wrong bet?"

She had meant it as a joke, but her tone came out bitter and disillusioned. Tallulah leaned in to whisper:

"Are you in a bad mood because Mr. Lang isn't here?"

Her bright green eyes were kind and concerned. Izzy liked that about her: she wasn't the sort of person who took pleasure in someone else's misery.

"I suppose I am," Izzy said in a low voice. "I know he's busy. But I'm disappointed he couldn't make the time to be here, when I explained to him how much I'd love for him to attend the race."

"I'm sure he'd have been here if he could," Tallulah said.

Izzy wished she were as confident as her.

"And your ball is in a week," Tallulah added, "and he'll be there, won't he?"

Izzy nodded. "He promised he would."

Tallulah gave her a wide smile. "Well, there you are!"

Izzy gazed at the expanse of green lawn below, picturing Mr Lang dancing with her around the ballroom. Slightly reassured, she turned back to Tallulah.

"What about you?" she asked. "Any gentleman striking your fancy?"

Tallulah shrugged, indifference crossing her features. "No. Not yet, anyway."

Izzy frowned, surprised by her lack of enthusiasm for the matter.

"No one?"

"No. But I'm not sure I want to get married just yet anyway."

"Is it because of your drawings?" Izzy asked.

She'd seen Tallulah's artistic skills when they were at school, and she had a vague recollection of a secret plan to go to Paris for a couple of years.

"Yes," Tallulah said, her voice low. "But don't tell my mother. She thinks I've given up on all that and I'm looking for a husband."

A smile ran along Izzy's lips. Interesting how every Debutante seemed to have secrets, when one wanted to look hard enough.

She winked at her friend. "Your secret's safe with me."

A roar erupted around them, interrupting their discussion. The race was about to begin. Everyone in the stands got to their feet and craned their neck to be sure not to miss the start. Archie pulled a pair of binoculars out of his pocket, and Vita grabbed his hand, her eyes trained on the stalls.

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