She went to the window and, shielding her eyes, looked down.
"Did you ever hear anything more?" Reverend Belcher asked.
"About Nan, you mean?" Finch shifted his feet awkwardly. "Well, not in so many words. But it was made clear to me that she has...left this world."
"Good," the Reverend said resolutely. "It was a world that did not deserve her."
"I agree."
"I find it quite unbelievable, in retrospect. That entire episode of my life."
"I quite understand," Lutwidge sympathized, thinking of his own recent adventures with Nan's alter ego.
"A colossal waste," the Baron was grumbling, as the Tattsons entered. "Why the energy they are consuming in that fool Tower could ripen sixty acres of wheat!"
"My dears!" the Baroness cried, and opened her arms wide as if to encircle both Finch and Miss Ethyl, who, she felt, must be shattered at the engagement of their respective amours. "I hope you will consider the possibility, if you have not already, of each finding solace within the wounded heart of the other."
"Timothy Belcher," the Reverend blurted, unsure how to introduce himself, and so sticking out his hand as a kind of unintentional (though welcome) pinprick to her ballooning enthusiasm.
"Ah, you are officiating, then?" The Baroness pumped his arm and refused to release it. She looked directly into the Reverend's frightened eyes. "Can you honestly say that the ship you are soon to launch will do anything but founder, in short order, on the rocks of marital discord?"
"Oh no!" the Reverend said, trying to dispel several misapprehensions at once.
"No? Let me tell you a thing or two," she said sagely, and drew him off.
"I thought you were a bugger," the Baron accosted Finch, referring to his wife's wishes for the young man and Miss Ethyl. "Had a change of heart, have you? Well it won't last. You are congenitally suited to your condition. Might as well make the most of it, 'hay while the sun shines,' and all that. Have you read Kraft-Ebbing? Sound scholarship, though I found the illustrations unnecessary. Shocking, even."
"There is a footballer by that name," Finch frowned, "but I was unaware that he had written--"
"The Psychopathia Sexualis," Miss Ethyl said.
Both men looked at her.
"It was in my father's library. I found it when I was a girl. I could not make out much of the text, but I thought the pictures quite beautiful."
"Hmmm," the Baron considered, looking from one to the other. "Perhaps in this instance my wife has a less erring eye than usual."
"Miss Ethyl and I are friends," Finch said, and, to soften any insult the statement may have contained, went over and stood by her.
"Your voice is unusually thin for the Abbey," the Baroness was saying. "Have you practiced projecting?"
"The Abbey?"
"Dorothy, stop intimidating the boy. Can't you see it is his first dinner party?" the Baron called.
"Are you upset?" Finch took the opportunity to ask Miss Ethyl. "I do recall now your accompanying the Earl on several walks while at the Hall."
"Oh no, not really," Miss Ethyl shrugged. "People like me never end up with people like him. I should be quite lucky to have any suitors at all, much less one so dashing as the Earl."
"You mustn't think that way."
"Mustn't I?" she smiled. "Look at me. I am neither pretty nor smart. I am rich. But you know there are situations when I wish I wasn't. Because every time a man comes up and says something nice to me I know it is a boldfaced lie. I suppose the man I shall eventually marry will be the best liar. And that is a rather sad fate, is it not?"
"Where is the Duchess?" the Baroness Tattson asked. "Lutwidge, do go up and see what is delaying her."
"Lady Tabitha and the Earl are up there as well," Miss Ethyl added.
"I would not dream of it," Lutwidge said. "I shall play host, instead. Who is for a whiskey and soda?"
The drinks he passed sparkled brilliantly in the Tower's light.
Upstairs, a council of war was being held. The Earl and the Duchess sat on either side of Lady Tabitha, who regarded her reflection in the tilted mirror with the serenity that only the perfect application of powder, paint, and scent can bring.
"Well imagine if this was the garden of Eden," the Earl complained, "and Eve just happened to mention, 'Oh Adam, hope you don't mind, I invited Mr. Snake over for dinner. Told him to bring an apple, I did.'
"