Felicity Mainwaring sat before her dressing-table staring at herself critically in the looking-glass. She was forty-five years old and looked fifty. Her scrupulous dieting and rigorous exercise routines ensured that there was not a single extra ounce of weight on her body but where once she had been merely thin she now looked scrawny. Exercise may keep the muscles firm but it doesn't prevent lines from forming or preserve the youth and elasticity of the skin. After the shock of her husband's death from cancer a year ago, she had begun to look her age and dyeing her hair to hide the threads of grey merely served to make her look harder than ever. Unsparing though she was of herself, Felicity couldn't see that the matt black hair aged her and that it was no longer in keeping with her skin tone. She rather liked it and, turning her head slightly, she approved the severe geometric cut that she had stuck to since Mary Quant first made it famous in the sixties. Mark had always admired it; that and the fact that she had never become flabby and careless of her appearance as her friends had. Her success here was partly to do with their decision to remain childless which meant that there was plenty of time and money to be spent on her appearance. Even when Mark's cancer had been diagnosed and he had died shortly afterwards, she had never regretted that decision. It was possible that children might have been a comfort but it was more likely that they would have required consolation themselves and Felicity preferred to look after number one.
It had been a cataclysmic shock. Mark had hardly ever been ill. And he was doing so well in his career. Ever since he had passed out from Britannia Royal Naval College, he had gone from strength to strength within the submarine service. Great things were promised him: he was, in naval parlance, 'a flyer'. He had shot ahead of all his oppos such as Tom Wivenhoe, George Lampeter and Mark Webster, and his eyes were firmly fixed on Flag Officer rank and more. So were Felicity's. She imagined, with enormous pleasure, rubbing Cass Wivenhoe's nose in the dirt. And now it was all over.
Felicity raised her chin, narrowed her eyes and examined her neck. It was there that ageing showed quickest. Turning this way and that, rather like a sharp-eyed bird sizing up its lunch, Felicity studied herself. She'd taken to wearing high-necked jerseys and was delighted with the piecrust-collared shirts that Princess Diana had made the vogue. She found them very flattering. After all, there was no point in letting herself go because her husband had died. Mark would have approved her determination to keep the flag flying. Perhaps it was a little easier for a woman whose husband had been away so much. She was used to being alone and had long since equipped herself with a circle of friends and amusements with which to ward off loneliness and boredom and, if she were to be brutally honest, Mark had become a little dull towards the end, his mind and will so firmly bent on his career. It went without saying that she'd been all for it. Nevertheless, promotion-chasing is a full-time occupation and Mark had become preoccupied and less companionable. She missed him. Of course she did. They had been well matched: shrewd, ruthless, self-seeking. Because they had been so alike there had been no need to dissemble and they had, therefore, found the other's company restful.
Well, it was no good going over and over things. Felicity added a few last touches to her skillfully applied maquillage and sat back satisfied. At least she still had George. It was odd that George, who had never married and who had saved Felicity from loneliness on many occasions throughout her married life, had become much less available since the funeral. He had given her to understand that it wasn't quite the thing, under the circumstances, to advertise their relationship and that they should wait a while before making anything public. Felicity could see the point. George was still in the Navy and it might not do his career any good to be seen stepping quite so hastily into the dead man's shoes.