by Sue Johnson
“It’s not real, you know.” Lady Arabella Winkett twitched her fan towards the brightly coloured parrot in the silver cage just behind them in the uncomfortably hot artist’s studio, where a group of people were waiting for the famous artist Ludovici to talk about his latest work. “I heard Ludovici bought it from some souvenir maker in the tropics. You’d never find feathers that colour.”
“Arabella – darling – please don’t keep changing the subject. I want to know if the rumours about you and HIM are true.” The Honourable Percy Lucas gazed at her pleadingly.
“Of course I’ve been faithful to you,” said Arabella, her blue eyes going dreamy as she thought about the sittings she’d had with Ludovici for her betrothal portrait.
“Liar,” said a voice.
“Who said that?” Lady Arabella looked uneasy.
“I did.” There was the sound of claws against metal. “Bella loves Ludo, kissy kissy kissy.”
“Arabella – that sounds just like you. Are you sure you’ve been faithful?”
“Are you sure, Percy, that you haven’t betrayed me with Ludovici’s voluptuous maidservant Maria?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Arabella.” Percy sounded as if he was about to choke.
“Percy and Maria up a tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g.”
“Bella loves Ludo.”
Arabella poked at the cage with her fan until she began to attract the wrong sort of attention from others in the room, most of whom were beginning to laugh.
“We’ll settle this outside,” said Percy.
“We most certainly will. Just wait till my father hears how badly you’ve treated me.”
“How badly I’ve treated you!”
As the sound of their voices raised in argument faded away down the stairs, Ludovici switched off the tape-recorder and he and Maria collapsed laughing into each other’s arms.
“Thank goodness their engagement will be off now – and I won’t have to put up with either of them again. Especially as, given their previous reputations, I’d have little chance of getting paid.”
“She was right about one thing,” said Maria.
“Presto the parrot is a fake.”