She has a lovely seat. As I watched her buttocks rise and fall – picking up speed until she was going like the clappers – I pulled the silk kerchief from around my throat and dabbed my forehead. There’s nothing quite like the sight of a woman who can sling a leg over, let out a full throated cry and not be phased by flanks flecked with sweat. It seemed nothing could stop her.
The rhythm picked up until her bottom rose one last time, suspended itself in mid-air for a lingering second, then slammed down on hard leather moments before her steed’s hind legs thrust into the damp soil.
Astride Zounds, her gelding, the Duchess of Cornwall gracefully cleared the wooden fence and disappeared amongst the trees that marked the edge of my estate. I heard Camilla shout “Tally Ho!”, followed by “Gotcha!”. The squeals of a fox being torn to pieces by a pack of hounds was drowned out by the triumphant blowing of the hunt’s horns.
Spurring my own horse Hubris (sired by Scenic [IRE] out of Lovers Knot [NZ]) into a gallop, I raced to the site of the kill. I prayed I’d be first to wipe the bloodied brush on Camilla’s still flushed cheeks – those on her face, that is.
I reached the clearing where the foxhounds were dismembering the tiny beast, dismounted and strode towards a tree stump where Camilla was sitting, her high leather boots planted apart. A Benson & Hedges between her fingers sent a smoke signal into the morning air.
“Fruity Frogmorton,” she called. “What kept you?”
“As soon as I saw the hounds were all metal and had a good head, I thought I’d let you have the honour.”
“Gosh, Fruity,” she said, squeezing my arm and leaving bruising that would take two weeks to fade, “how gallant of you. That vixen certainly is a quick thing.”
“Was,” I corrected her.
For a minute we sat side by side, our jodhpured thighs pressed against each other while we admired how Baskerville, the lead hound, dragged the fox’s carcass backwards and forwards over the soil, sketching out in blood what to my besotted eyes was a heart shape.
Camilla broke the silence by scratching a match against the underside of her boot and lighting a fresh cigarette. “I must have one more before Charles arrives. He’s a wet blanket when it comes to smoking.”
Her husband’s name, so unwelcome in such an intimate scene – just we two, the slaughtered animal and 31 panting hounds – made me start. Pulling my leg away from hers, I stood up, breathed deeply and tried not to dive back into the limpid pools that were her eyes. No, no, I needed to look at her. I turned and found she was squinting as the cigarette smoke trailed up, stinging her eyes and enveloping her head in a blue grey cloud. The last person I’d seen who was able to hold a cigarette between the lips for that length of time was Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep.
“Camilla, you know why I placed that advertisement in personal columns of The Times?”
“The one that read: ‘Mature, portly male with potency issues seeks bi-curious Thai masseuse.’?”
“No, the other one: ‘Mr and Mrs K. Friday was fantastic. Hope you felt the same. Your dreams are ours. And our wish is a second meeting. Maybe earlier than discussed? Respectfully. Fx.’”
“Well, you’d been playfully referring to Charles and I during our last visit to Frogmorton Hall as ‘Mr & Mrs K’ – K for ‘King’ – so when I saw the ad I knew that you and your dear wife …”
“Lady Penelope,” I said helpfully.
“Indeed, what a woman. When Charles saw her bending over the Aga basting a haunch of venison with gooseberry jam, I recall him saying: ‘I’d like a piece of that.’”
I gave a polite cough to cover my annoyance at the thought of the Prince tupping my wife. “Yes, well, getting back to the advertisement. I wanted you to come back to the hall so I could tell you … tell you …”
“Tell me what, Fruity?”
“Yes,” said an ice cold voice from a tall bush to my left, “tell her what?”
Camilla was on her feet, clenching her leather riding crop. Then she snapped the whip so hard against her boot I thought I’d swoon. “Who’s that?” Camilla hissed through teeth that, after decades of a two-pack a day habit, had the hue of old ivory.
The bush parted and Lady Penelope stepped into view. I’d never seen her looking more lovely, with her lipstick almost straight – which meant she hadn’t found the gin bottle I’d hidden behind the stable door – and the sunlight bouncing off the twin barrels of the Purdey Over & Under 12 bore that she was pointing at my crutch.
“I heard that bitch cry out and came here, knowing what was going to happen,” Penelope said.
“You can’t refer to the Duchess of Cornwall as a ‘bitch’,” I protested.
“I was referring to Baskerville. I know when that hound recognises a moving scent.”
Swinging my gaze between Penelope, holding 7lbs 8oz of hand-crafted shotgun, and Camilla swotting her crop against her Ariat Challenge Field Boot, I felt my own boot heels rise a few inches into the air. I was doubly in love.
The sound of Penelope cocking the Purdey brought me back to earth.
Taking a deep breath, I decided to throw her off the scent. “Did you know …” I began as I backed towards my horse, “that Prince Charles fancies you?”
With Hubris breaking into a canter, the last words I heard from the clearing were Camilla’s shout of: “How dare you, you strumpet?!?”
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© Greg Flynn 2009