Lynne had distrusted Paul from the outset (how right she was) and the feeling; although voiced by neither – was mutual.
With the supposed mellowing of age and the fact that life had propelled them all in different directions, it had ceased to matter, because opportunities for meeting had naturally decreased.
In Gridchester days, a pattern emerged whereby she would invite Lynne to stay when Paul was visiting the Oxbridge colleges.
On the rare occasions that she slipped the domestic leash for a day’s shopping in London, they sometimes did lunch.
As years passed, these were increasingly strained affairs. She wanted to tell her oldest friend the truth about her marriage, but words failed her.
How could you talk about that?
When Greg Salt popped up as part of the equation, the possibilities of disclosure moved from remote to impossible.
Lynne’s husband was not sympathique.
He was, however, rich and successful, and she suspected that he had never experienced a moment of uncertainty from Nanny to Prep to Big School.
Paul and Donald’s upbringing (if that was the right word for the dilettante, faintly bohemian parenting of Lilias and Eric) had not lacked money.
Their mother and father were journalists on national newspapers, and Lilias in particular had connections with B-list actors, artists and musicians (Peter, Paul and Mary but not Dusty; Denholm Elliot but not Olivier).
As Eric was prone to say (especially on the rare and uniquely embarrassing occasions when he met her own parents) a Waverley education was the best gift he had given to his sons, and he was possibly right, as evinced by Paul’s Third at Cambridge.
But the middle-class aspiration of her husband’s family paled into insignificance beside the landed certainties of Greg Salt’s clan.
The third son of Appeal Court Judge Sir Boniface ( Boner) Salt; he had been raised in Tulberry; an hour’s drive from central London but another country to all intents and purposes, where visitors were more likely to encounter deer and horses than people.
Wickery Court, the family seat, would have been instantly recognised by readers familiar with the novels of Waugh and Mitford. Greg had followed his father and brothers into Pop at Eton; his sisters Delphine and Maris had boarded at St Mary’s Ascot.
All rode to hounds.
Sir Boniface and Lady Eleanor embodied the England of The Countrywoman magazine and, of course, each to their own.
But how on earth Lynne had become enmeshed in this world to the extent of marrying into it was beyond her understanding.
Over the years it formed another wedge between them.
Lynne married Greg in 1989, shortly after she had moved with her own family to Littelbury following Paul’s appointment as Deputy Master at the school of the same name.
The wedding itself was a shock (she had not seen it coming, and Greg had featured in only one letter from Lynne, in connection with a planning issue) but everything about the man placed him in polar opposition to her friend.
Lynne’s father was a GP in a family-run medical practice where her mother provided administrative back up. Lynne and her twin sister Olive had attended the local grammar school on scholarships and while Lynne had taken the academic path, Olive had married her first boyfriend, Kelvin. The couple now ran a successful optician’s business and were themselves the parents of twin boys.
It was obvious why Greg Salt; a rather portly Tufton-Bufton-style lawyer, would be attracted to acerbic, career high-flier, Lynne Lessways, who had already carved out a name for herself within the Department as one to watch.
She was going places fast, and already the routines of the Civil Service; dusted and tended generation after generation like plastic geraniums, seemed too outmoded for a woman of her ambition.
But why Lynne; passionately egalitarian in every respect; a voracious reader, free-thinker and a fervent advocate of what used to be called women’s lib,should wish to tie herself in perpetuity to a person who regarded Earl Grey’s Reform Act as midwife to the permissive society, was the eighth wonder of the world.
How could the woman who had dated some of the most interesting and intellectual men in London have sunk to this?
She suspected that the answer was the usual root of all evil – money.
Lynne earned a good salary at the Department; the type of income that no main grade pay scale teacher would take home. She had progressed from a series of rented studio apartments in the less fashionable parts of London to a very decent one bedroom flat in Pimlico, courtesy of a ruinous mortgage.
It was pleasant – and Lynne’s eye for detail and an interesting artefact had meant that she had acquired some extremely nice pieces from foreign travel, including severa modern mosaics from Sicily and a splendidly ornate rug; a memento from her Moroccan holiday with Sandra.
After her marriage to Greg, Lynne kept the flat (now dubbed a pied-a-terre) possibly as an insurance policy should the relationship fail.
But whatever her intentions had been, it was rarely if ever used, because when
Mr and Mrs Salt (junior) were not residing at their spacious Surrey home, or holidaying at the Seville apartment, they spent time with Greg’s family at Wickery Court.
Shortly after the wedding (listed in the Society column of The Sentinel, after the weekly Court Schedule), Lynne left the Department, retaining tenuous links as an Advisor and set up her own Consultancy, Saltways.
Exactly what Saltways did was never clear, but within the space of a year, its plush offices in Park Lane were augmented by sister concerns in Brussels and Madrid.
Lynne became a regular on the more serious quasi-scientific radio and television programmes; chaired the judging panel for the annual Green Businesses Award, and started to write.
The Inuit: Man and Myth, shortlisted for the Attenborough in 2009, was a sparkling tour de force; there was talk of a series of documentaries based on its findings, and even a short film, courtesy of the acclaimed director; Anton Lubyeck.
And of course the dogs.
She had absolutely no idea where Pork, Scratching and the long trail of their ancestors, had come from.
At Dorlich, Lynne had evinced a total lack of interest in any animal apart from the human male.
Within a month of becoming Mrs Salt, however, the first puppies arrived and assumed pole position at the centre of hearth and home with their baskets, pedigrees and expensive medical treatments.
Crufts and breeders took on an inordinate importance although Lynne showed no signs of breeding herself and thus doing her bit for the Salt dynasty.
It was a life of money and the freedom and influence that money can bring, and she had to admit that her friend had thrived.
But in the death-watch hours of the night, did the woman who had esteemed Ben Bex-Oliver wonder exactly what she was doing lying next to Greg Salt; a man who (despite his wealth and connections) probably wore sock suspenders?
If so, she did not say ...9
Now, she held the telephone, barely recognising the guttural stream assaulting her ears. It was incomprehensible but perfectly lucid
It was all about pain.
She left the house and set off for the station; her ultimate destination a Pimlico flat that she had not visited for 21 years.
She wondered if it had changed.