|The physician was a bald man whose lush side whiskers seemed to
have been added by some inartistic prankster.
"On the contrary, Inspector. Medicine today is much more than
germs and bandages. We deal in the spiritual side of healing as
well. His Majesty has, as we all do, an aura. His, of course, is
of a much more intense hue than yours or mine. It draws its strength
from the devotion of his people. The sight of a national sacrifice,
such as this tower represents, deepens his aura and blocks out the
very sort of negative emanations which you are displaying, negative
emanations, sir, which can only do our Sovereign harm."
"Auras?" Inspector Jenkins asked. "Emanations? I
thought he had gout."
"Merely an outward manifestation," the physician scoffed.
"It can be cured, as all diseases can, by purifying his spiritual
surroundings, which is what we are trying to do. Besides, our need
to keep the fire burning seems to dovetail quite neatly with your
own...embarrassment of fuel."
"Yes, well our work is of a more scientific nature," Inspector
Jenkins said haughtily. "We are trying to contain an epidemic."
"...which was brought on by a lack of positive thinking. Why
you can see it in these victims." The physician motioned disdainfully
to the contents of the cart. "Look at their posture. Slouchers,
every one of them. And the lack of care they took in their physical
appearance. Typical. It was not any disease that killed these people,
Inspector. It was low self-esteem."
Actually, it was a knife drawn across the hollow of the throat,
but you are not physician enough to see that, you impudent charlatan,
Inspector Jenkins silently answered as he walked away. A palace
messenger, running at full tilt, sped by, almost knocking him down.
Auras. Spiritual healing. They were, he knew, all the rage at the
moment, but he had not realized such shoddy superstitions were current
in the royal household itself. Humoring an eighty-year-old man,
they were. He had said as much to young Ghoulrich, who took it all
in, even making the occasional memorandum. Nobody wants to admit
they are going to die. That was the problem with people these days,
he decided, still looking round for a place to wipe his hands. He
would like to take the lad fishing. Yes, fishing in the Lake Country.
He had noticed that, as the horrors of his job deepened, his personal
feelings became correspondingly more sentimental. He wept at lachrymose
barroom laments. He lingered over moralistic magazine illustrations.
And now he saw Bradley and himself sitting on a grassy bank, their
bare feet dangling over the edge, with his arm around the lad (who,
in this fantasy, was only eight or nine) teaching him how to flick
his pole so the line sailed far out over the water. In his daydream,
this vision somehow got confused with the nagging desire to wipe
the slime from his palm so that he pictured rubbing it back and
forth rhythmically along the boy's shoulder, as if by bringing their
bodies in contact more fully he could rid himself of the uncleanliness
these corpses always left him with. "For Mr. Ghoulrich is so
simple and good," Inspector Jenkins sighed, continuing through
the tunnel. "Though how he manages to maintain his purity in
that snake pit of a Palace I will never know."
Finch resisted the urge to arrive early. It would look as if he
were seeking a private interview, which was the truth, but he did
not wish it to appear that way. There was no denying he was confused.
Tabitha had said she did not want to see him. Was it not the gentlemanly
thing to now step aside? Even attending this party, to which he
had obviously been invited in error, was an act of dubious merit.
But there was never any real possibility he would not come. In fact,
there was no possibility of his turning back now in any sense. It
no longer took courage to do what he had to do. He did not fear
playing the fool, the rejected suitor, the ill-bred upstart causing
a scene, or any other role which might be of use to him. None of
that mattered anymore. He felt a tremendous sense of momentum. He
did not have a plan. He did not know how things would turn out,
but "turn" they would. He was sure of it. There was no
going back to being the Lutwidge Finch of old, thank God.
Despite his resolution, only two other guests had arrived when he
was shown into the parlor. He immediately recognized Miss Ethyl,
whom he had met that summer at Hall, but he was surprised to find
her in conversation with the Reverend Belcher.
"Well," he said, shaking his hand, "I had no idea
you dined in such high circles."
"I do not," the Reverend said. "I mean, I did not.
And no doubt will not, ever again."
"The Reverend Belcher is a Reverend," Miss Ethyl said,
with her inimitable gift for conversation. "He is an authority
on the poor. He works in a place called Seven Dials. It is quite
near here, though I never heard of it."
"This was a mistake, having me to dinner," the Reverend
stammered. "I am no expert on the poor. They are just the people
who fill my pews each Sunday."
"Perhaps you will favor us with your views on Transubstantiation,
then," Finch smiled.
"Well something must be done about it," Miss Ethyl said.
"I had no idea until recently that there were such people,
much less so many of them."
The Tower, which dominated the room's large windows, burned on their
faces through the glass.
"The Duchess has not descended yet?"
"No," Miss Ethyl replied. "Nor the Earl or Lady Tabitha,
though I saw his coach outside. Ah, here come the Baron and Baroness."